View from Glen Hill: Big help in a small package

Up here vacationing in northwestern Maine’s lake-and-mountain country, we do some very non-traditional vacation activities, and we’re fortunate to have our grandkids along for the experience!

I wrote last year about how our oldest grandchild Jack, then four years old, and I haul gravel to replenish our long dirt-and-gravel driveway here in Andover, Maine. We load it up by hand and then drive it up from our very modest-sized gravel pit using our smaller trailer pulled by our 30-year-old, topless Jeep Wrangler. I also wrote about our related adventure last summer using our larger six-by-eight-foot trailer pulled by our 20-year-old Jeep Cherokee to haul over a ton of much larger and coarser aggregate from Andover’s commercial gravel pit to address a special road-drainage issue. Ask Jack and he’ll gladly give you a detailed description of the difference between gravel and aggregate.

Jack’s most recent lesson in farm management has come this summer when, as a five-year-old now, he has graduated to helping me with the trimming of tree limbs that encroach upon our cultivated fields. We have to wait until the hay has been harvested before we can do that without damaging the crop. Then we slowly work our way around the fields cutting those encroaching limbs and small trees. This trimming allows harvesting equipment and tractors pulling that equipment to get in close to the edges of the hay fields; otherwise, scrub bushes and trees quickly take over what was formerly pastureland.

It’s good to have company when doing this necessary work. Jack calls out directions as I maneuver the Wrangler for hitching it up to the larger trailer. He and I then do the actual hitching, working together step-by-step with me doing much of the work as the summer began; but now he does it all himself once he’s removed the twigs that block the trailer’s wheels from rolling and I’ve lifted the trailer’s yoke onto the Wrangler’s trailer-hitch ball. Jack sets the latch on the hitch, inserts the protective pin and secures it, and attaches the safety chain to the tow bar. I then test to be sure that the yoke is firmly secured to the ball, and off we go.

These days, Jack sits on my lap and helps with the steering as we drive slowly in four-wheel, low-gear range onto the fields and around to where we left off last time. Then we raise the folding ladder at the front of the trailer and secure it to the trailer’s side panels with ropes. The ladder is both for climbing to reach higher limbs and as a safety cage for Jack to sit under when the larger limbs come down (and fall neatly into the trailer if we’ve positioned it right!) Jacks helps with directions for that placement and is now also learning to use the levered limb cutters himself to take on some of the smaller, lower branches and to cut up larger limbs in the trailer bed.

As we work, butterflies are often cavorting about in the fields, and the horses in a neighboring pasture will stop by to check on us, knowing that if we haven’t been forgetful, we’ll have some carrots or apples to share with them. There is a closeness to the land when we’re doing this work, and Jack senses it. He will ask me, “When are we doing the trimming today, Grandpa?!” And I’m told that during the rest of the year he explains that “My real work is when I help my grandpa in the summer.”

Jack does all of this work with great focus and enjoyment, and I marvel at that, thinking I wouldn’t have been capable of doing the same when I was his age. But then, I didn’t have the opportunity either. And up here, opportunities abound for young inquiring minds: for example, riding in an off-road articulated dump truck with a neighbor who’s reclaiming fields long-abandoned to forest and returning them to pastureland using bulldozer and backhoe; or getting a tour of the farm equipment the year-around town resident who does our haying brought down to our fields while I speak with his daughter, who was helping him with the harvesting, about her plans for law school now that she is very successfully completing college.

Jack takes it all in and will recite to me for days what he has learned. In fact, I have to say there’s nothing better for a senior citizen than seeing the world through the eyes of a five-year-old!