Kerchuck... kerchunk... kerchunk.
The baler plunger rhythmically rocked the tractor forward and back. I blinked hard, trying to wipe away the sleep from my eyes. I squint into the dark at the rows of oat hay gleaming in the tractor headlights. I am almost to the top of the hill. I look around to see where the other tractor is — and in that moment, the baler plugs up. We had rented another tractor and baler, and apparently neither of the machines were very happy about the arrangement. The baler refused to eat the oats, and the tractor seemed indifferent to either of us.
The pick up reel was still spinning, so I assumed there were no broken bolts — it had just plugged up. I shut the PTO off, and picked up the phone to call my husband for help. Cleaning out the chamber is a nasty, miserable job, and, well, misery loves company. He answers as I throttle the tractor down, and start looking for my boots. While everyone else shows up for nighttime baling in the same outfit as their daytime baling, I am not embarrassed at all to be sporting pajamas and slippers. I slide one boot on and open the tractor door, stepping down onto the first rung.
“I don’t think anything broke. It’s just plugged up again,” I say, squeezing the phone between my ear and shoulder as I press my head under the steering column trying to reach back in for my second boot.
“OK, I’ll be there in a minute,” my husband says.
I can almost touch the leather on my boot, and I wriggle a tiny bit more under the steering wheel, the shift-lever poking into my shoulder blade. I stepped back in and my fingers had just tightened on the pullstrap of my boot when the lever over my shoulder moved. I had bumped the lever into neutral. The tractor and baler started rolling down the steep hill, the heavy baler urging the tractor faster and faster. I stumbled back into the seat and grabbed at the control lever, at the throttle — stomping on the brakes. I wasn’t familiar with the controls, and they didn’t respond like I expected. The tractor picked up speed — as did my pulse. The bottom of the hill appeared in my headlights before I got the tractor stopped.
“What in the world just happened?” my husband’s voice shouted at me from the floorboards. My phone was laying under the clutch pedal —the tractor door still open, and my second boot still on the floor.
My hands shook as I picked up the phone. I was lucky. Another step out the door and I could have fallen under the dualed-up tires; I could have rolled the other direction and into the 20-foot drop off at the end of the field; my husband could have already been under the baler when that had happened. I eased around the controls as I got out of the tractor this time, thanking God for his careful watch over us.
Less than a week later, I was in my happy place at the river, the incident with the tractor long forgotten in the hustle and bustle of summer harvest. It was an unusual Sunday, one in which I somehow had found myself free to spend the morning with my boys at our boathouse. We had read a few kids books. Then I decided to continue a paint project I had started earlier in the spring. I put a life jacket on the littlest, turned on an audiobook, and they both climbed in the boat while I lost myself in the relaxation of painting and World War II spies.
A big splash punctuated an intense moment in the audiobook. I look over about the second my oldest screams that my 3-year old had just fallen in — without his life-jacket. I don’t remember setting down my paintbrush. I don’t remember how I got across the room. I remember crossing the bow of the boat — but I couldn’t be sure if I stepped in or jumped over. What I do remember is arriving on the other side and seeing my baby’s blonde head about a foot under that murky green water. That image is burned into my mind, and while it could have only lasted a fraction of a second, that moment seems to play in extra-slow motion. Then I am in the water pushing him to the surface.
I hold his body tight — feeling the water run down my hair and mix with my tears as his breath comes in big gasps. We swim to the back of the boat and manage to get him in. I catch my breath before pulling myself into the boat — soggy shoes and all. We were both shaking, as I squeezed his little body into mine. I pulled him away just long enough to kiss his forehead.
“Thank you for saving me, Mommy,” he whispered in his shaking toddler voice.
I hugged him again as the tears ran freely down my cheeks. The painting was forgotten about, harvest could wait another day — there were so many ways this could have ended differently. I wrapped up my baby in a towel, and we headed for the sun to dry out. Cuddled in a swing, a boy under each arm, we spent the day reading, coloring and playing in the sand box.
Life may not always be easy — but it’s simple: work hard, love harder and thank God every day for another chance to do it even better.