Last fall my daughter and I returned to a farm that had been central to her childhood. Many had been the pumpkin pickings, hayrides, the perfumed local strawberries so unlike their waxen California cousins and visits to the petting zoo. I cannot count the pounds of corn Alice must have fed those greedy sheep and goats, as jealous as a bunch of poor relations at the reading of a will.PIt was September, the next to the last day of early goose season. August still hung around us like mountains of invisible wool. It was as humid as the tropics and yet the faint voice of autumn could be heard on the occasional breeze. One of the challenges in early goose season is finding geese that are legal to shoot. They congregate in parks, on golf courses, in front of grand corporate headquarters and along the sides of the road. PAt Mortlake Farm (not its real name) there was a large pond where the dairy cattle slaked their thirst. Alice and I knocked on the door and asked for permission to shoot some geese. The farmer, we’ll call him Wesley, invited us in, gave Alice a root beer and talked to us about hunting.P“When my daughter was your age, wait, I have the picture around here somewhere. Ellen!”
The pictures were found. “She shot this buck not 50 yards from the back porch, got on the bus and went to school.”PWe were shown the picture of a dead buck with huge antlers and a grinning girl with braces holding a shotgun. She had been Alice’s age at the time. The long and short of it was that we had permission. The next morning we rose at dawn. It was still a cool eighty as we dressed in summer cammo and got our gear together. Dandy the Labrador was shaking with excitement when she saw the shotgun come out. She had retrieved nothing but training dummies for months and knew the game had changed back in her favor. As we drove to the farm I lectured Alice about gun safety. We stopped for coffee and doughnuts and at last reached the rendez vous point with our Canadas. We managed to get out of the SUV with a minimum of door slamming and the geese seemed undisturbed. Dandy stayed in close as we climbed the fence and started inching our way towards the pond – we planned to jump them. We had about 5o yards to go to get into shooting range when there was a furious barking – someone had let a collie out and as it raced towards us the geese took flight.
The collie was friendly enough, a male with a regal head. He was eager to make Dandy’s acquaintance and she left her telephone number for him on the grass. That was the beginning and end of our goose season for the year – they certainly would not come back that day. I thought we would go over to the barn and say hello to Wes and thank him for letting us hunt on his land. PWe told him about the collie. He chuckled, “I forgot all about Jed. He does bark if he doesn’t know you….Alice, do you want to ride on a tractor? Wes was about to get into a big John Deere with a cab and a bucket loader. He helped her into the cab and I followed behind in the SUV. He gave her a tour of the farm and ended up at a spot where a small Bobcat backhoe was stuck in the mud. The big JD was a 4x4 with gigantic tires. I couldn’t believe that its wheels spun and could not pull out the Bobcat.P“Now I will get a big tractor,” he announced and led us into a building like a small airplane hangar. There were almost 100 tractors, mostly John Deere’s, dating from the 1930’s up to the latest model. The old ones looked as bright and shining as the new ones. I asked about the old tractors. “Those are pulling tractors.” Alice was curious and Wes explained about tractor pulling contests at State Fairs with big prizes. P“They pull with bitty garden tractors all the way up to huge tractors like funny cars with twin V8 engines.” “Dad, can I have a garden tractor? I want to enter a pulling contest.” A new hobby was just what we needed. On Craigslist we found a Case 108, a small tractor with automatic drive and an 8 HP engine that sounded perfect for Alice. My wife and I drove over to have a look. The owner, Karen was a dry, reluctant woman who resembled a parrot. She had kept meticulous service records since they bought the machine in 1985 which she showed to us like they were classified documents. We bought the tractor, paid her in cash and made arrangements to have Wes pick it up for us the following day. He had agreed to go through it, provide whatever service it needed and then deliver it to our house.
The next morning he called me, sounding puzzled. “The woman you bought the tractor from called me. She has drafted some kind of contract she wants me to sign or she won’t let me pick it up. I am not signing anything”PI called Karen. “Well, you have to sign one too,” she insisted. “Why?” “What if you injure yourself on my property? You have to sign a release that I am not responsible.” “Just leave it by the side of the road and we won’t come on the property all.” No, she insisted that “all parties would have to sign” I called the local police to ask their advice and was referred to the state police who had jurisdiction. Karen had already called saying we were endangering her by picking up the tractor. They told her to give back the money or give us the tractor. She argued with them. P“If she doesn’t give you the tractor you will have to take her to court,” the trooper told me on the phone. I told him I would attempt to retrieve my tractor “one way or another” and he told me they would send a squad car to supervise the transfer. They must have prevailed on her somehow. When we arrived, the guilty orange tractor with its plow and mower deck were by the side of the road like a child expelled from boarding school, waiting for the lecture from its parents. We could overhear Karen sobbing to the state trooper as Wes loaded it onto the trailer. Alice and I went off to celebrate our Pyrrhic victory at Outback Steakhouse where we shared a sinful dessert. PFrom the memoir The War Canoe You can read more at www.huntingwithdaughters.com We now have a Case 108, 222 and 226 and a Cub Cadet 102
David Bershtein, NJ, entered 2011-02-24
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