Horses and tractors
Summer, by its final milepost, the Autumnal Equinox, ends tomorrow night, in the dark, a bit after nine, a time three months ago there was light lingering in the sky. Slowly, at first imperceptibly, then with increasing speed, the
days have shortened since then.
It was a while ago, now, I looked at the night blank west-facing windows and was startled to see it was only eight o’clock and found it as disorienting as the early dark after the clocks change in the fall, and we have a bit of rare unity complaining about the sudden difference as though we’d never before experienced it.
Two weeks ago tomorrow the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, died. It wasn’t unexpected even to anyone who follows international news with only a cursory glance. Pageantry was a given, carriages and horsemen and pipes that seem to be a part of any British funeral, real or fictional. Flags would be lowered, heads of state would travel to attend, and people would put flowers at the castle gates.
In my lifetime, or more accurately, in my memory, there has been one monarch. The Empire has shifted, it has seemed to a very casual observer, the position of the monarchy has become less and less certain. She seemed a figurehead, a lady always with a hat and a handbag, well regarded in her own country despite — or perhaps because it made her more normal — her children’s sometimes messy lives.
In the morning, the news was that the royal physicians were monitoring Her Majesty, but by the time I went out for lunch the tone on talk radio had changed and it soon became apparent the Queen was dead. It is a line from a movie or a book about a different time: “The Queen is dead.”
Someone many of us know who lives in London wrote on social media “Looking of the terrace right now at dozens of people stopped in the streets and standing by the canal and leaning outside the pub, all on their phones, calling someone to say the Queen has died.”
If we much think of the British crown here in the United States, beyond movies and the stream of tabloid fodder at least one or another of the Royal family seems always to provide, it’s why-ever does it still exist beyond pomp and circumstance and, in truth, tourism dollars.
Yes, people left flowers at the castle gates, and they lined the streets, multi-generational throngs, in Scotland and in London, and in displays along the route between, a line of horses on a crest overlooking the highway, another of tractors, and those were just the ones I happened to see.
Sometimes we do need constants, threads that run through generations. My generation was not much removed from World War II, we grew up hearing snippets of speeches from the American President and the British Prime Minister. We knew the on-the-surface abdication story of Elizabeth’s uncle giving up the throne for love but not much of the brother, her father, the man who was not supposed to be king, thrust into the position and having to call his kingdom to war for the second time in living memory.
His elder daughter, the presumptive heir to the throne by the time of the war, drove ambulances and worked on vehicle engines. She represented a generation that is slipping away, not the elders but the parents of our childhood.
Of course I know the Queen’s popularity was in large part personal, and not universal within her our country. Maybe there is something more than we are willing to admit to tradition for tradition’s sake.
It is fitting that the haying of field along the Neck Road was later than usual, although only three weeks later than last last year. Still, I missed photo opportunities, there was too much traffic, I didn’t notice until it was too late — one day, focused on the pavement and the bicyclers and mopeders and walkers and joggers I caught out of the corner of my eye shapes in the meadow on the other side of the wall and had one of those out-of-time
split-second thoughts that there were too many cows over there, and oddly shaped, more big, round sheep, at that.
They were inanimate, big rounds of hay I realized in a flash, but the light was wrong, my direction was wrong, I was probably on the verge of being late, and I went along, reminding myself I didn’t need big rounds of hay photos every year.
They were still there when I came home, casting long shadows on the newly-mown grass around them, a tractor, one of those wonderful old tractors, sat almost of the crest of the hill, its work for the day finished. It is a Block Island field, undulating like a swelling sea, and it wasn’t until I was home, able to look more closely at the photo that I realized there was another round, nearly hidden in a fold of the land.
Haying always evokes memories, from the old Sheffield Farm, now the Hodge Preserve, and my Uncle Weldon driving the tractor pulling a baler, a red machine that spit out compacted hay. An older cousin years later confirmed those images and that it was a McCormick he somehow drove over a wall. He was older than I but a mainland kid, living in a real town outside Boston, and probably everyone, or my uncle and dad, thought it a great opportunity for him to learn to drive. It was a minor miracle, he was not hurt, the tractor was not damaged.
I am surprised at the incarnations of haying I experienced, that early baling, dragging with a thick rope behind a work horse Ford tractor, the loop so thick the men stood on it with their pitch forks, guiding the collection of hay that was pitched into a barn mow or piled into a stack, covered with a tarp and old fish net held down with wires.
There were stacks, covered with a tarp and fishnet weighed down with tires; I remember an artist who had a summer place here painting a haystack in a field on the Mansion Road, when a field might hold a potato field and a haystack and some random piece of farm equipment that eventually collapsed upon itself.
Now there are these great rounds, so heavy they are moved on a Bobcat, set on a flatbed. And I wonder how many of those tractors out to honor the Queen went back to work that same day because it’s what tractors do.