Learning the Hard Way

Let me tell you something. If there is an easy way to learn things that are totally beyond your current realm of expertise, that shit does not happen on a farm. Or, for that matter, when you are building houses.

It may happen other places, but I suspect those places are also where chocolate cake has no calories and the daily post is delivered by unicorns. Which is to say, nowhere in my life. And you know what? Thank god for that.

Because, first of all, you’re talking to a girl who often goes head-to-head with (and occasionally gets her ass dragged across a field by) stubborn equines. The very last thing I think would be a good idea is to meet one with ten inch spike sticking out of its head. So there’s that.

I also recently had an in-depth philosophical discussion with a friend–the kind can only happen after you’re a couple of glasses in to a good bottle of wine– about winning the lottery.

I mean, dead sober, I hear “winning the lottery” and my brain immediately goes: solar panels, geothermal system, bigger tractor, pay off mortgage, buy the 30 acres adjacent to my property. Um. Tomorrow. When my brain is being a little less practical (and a little more hey-let’s-sing-a-song-about-power-tools-in-front-of-a-camera) I actually think that’s the worst thing that could possibly happen to me, and here’s why…

Saturday, this happened:


This is a picture of me, sitting on the back-hoe of the neighbors tractor, trying desperately to figure out how to lift the stabilizers because five minutes prior I drove through the fence without realizing they weren’t up all the way, and bent the hell out of one of my gates.

Let me go back a bit further and set the scene for you: It’s Saturday afternoon. The first day since fall that it hasn’t been an absolute punishment to be outside for more than seven consecutive seconds. The barn stall is ten-inches deep in muck which has finally thawed out enough that I can properly clean the barn stall.


This is a job that usually takes an hour and a half. I’m on hour four. I’ve noticed one of the donkeys has rain-rot and need to run into town for treatment supplies. I am literally covered in shit, and I have a date in two hours.

On my last pass through the gate, one of the half-lowered stabilizers catches on the side of the fence and does its best to demolish it. I decide, you know what? I’ve operated heavy equipment before. I’m just going to jump on the back of this here tractor and raise those stabilizers back into place so I can leave the pasture without doing any more damage.

Twenty minutes later I’ve exhausted my very extensive vocabulary of swear words. The stabilizers have gone down, but no amount of switch-flipping or lever-jiggling will get them to go back up. The tractor is now stuck inside the pasture.

I google. I YouTube. I call my neighbor, who doesn’t answer. I swear some more. I consider how attractive the smell of manure is on a fifth date (they’ve got to learn sometime, right?) I spend a lot of time frowning at the stabilizers, considering how they work. Truth: I’m not much of a mechanic. (Yet.)

My neighbor finally calls me back and literally sounds three rattling breaths away from death, because he has pneumonia. I forbid him to come outside, but we talk through how the stabilizers normally work. I trace a hydrolic line back under the seat with his direction, and lo-and-behold, the line isn’t fully attached.

Well. That was easy.

And here’s what I learned… I learned a little about the mechanics of a tractor. About how if there’s a hydraulic component that will move in the “pressure’s off” direction, but not in the “pressure’s on” direction, it’s probably not a jamb or mechanical failure, but something in the system isn’t holding pressure. Next time something like this happens, I would immediately start looking for hydraulic fluid leaks. I’ll know to trace the lines back and check the connections. To check and make sure the thing supplying the pressure to those lines is engaged and working.

Saturday afternoon sucked. No doubt about it. And if I had lottery-winnings, I would probably buy a tractor that doesn’t break. When things get especially tough, or I’m in a time crunch (which is always) I would pay someone to come fix things, or help me out of a bind. And life would be easier for sure… but I wouldn’t know the things I know. I wouldn’t learn the real things that need to be learned, because those lessons are only really driven home when things get tough.

And, you know, I wouldn’t get to see my chickens acting like, well, chickens…


Because Nuggets hate tractors, apparently.

In the end, I’m not happy about these lessons while they’re being taught to me, but I don’t know what I’d be without them. Which is probably why you’ll never find me buying a lottery ticket.

24 Responses

    1. Fantastic! (It’s a pretty big deal when someone gets to come out to the farm and meet the animals.)

          1. The cat loved him, chickens were apathetic, and one of the donkeys licked his arm and left donkey-spit all over his shirt, so… yes?

    1. Started treating the donkey, got a helping-hand from the bearded-guy on making dinner, and since he’s a much better cook than I am it was kind of a win-win…

  1. So true! I watch people around me hire things out all the time and I think how lucky they are! But then I see what I have done and learned (God bless Youtube and Google) and I think how lucky I am! Cheers to a great post!!

  2. This past spring/summer, well actually the better part of last year, after a fellow Church member graciously gave me an older 501 Ford sickle hay mower. Now I had always dreamt of cutting my own hay and could never afford the fancy mowers. So I figured it must be divine intervention. I learned why it was permanently parked under the eave of that barn but learned an enormous amount of lessons the hard way while giving it enough TLC to work and then more lessons to get it to work properly. But now as I look upon my 46 huge round rolls of hay and every time I put a new one in the home made hay ring I figured out how to build from necessity and low funds, I have come to realize the hard work and TLC I had to give it made all worth while. There is a satisfaction as a woman who shouldn’t by society standards be able to…but I did! My dad always said…”if it came easy it probably wasn’t worth learning in the first place.” Happy farming!

  3. Personally, I think most of what’s learned is learned the hard way. It’s why I took five years of woodworking classes. I’d been working on our house for two years, doing cabinetry projects and basically fumbling my way through it. I finally told my wife I wanted to learn from someone else’s mistakes. Face it, the guy who tells you not to varnish under such-and-such a condition knows it’s a bad idea because he once did it—and ended up with varnish that didn’t dry properly.

  4. Just thought you should know you are a freakin’ inspiration. City gal here with no farm experience, but I sure do admire your gumption.

  5. I would have jumped off the tractor, kicked the broken fence and walked away with ‘pissed off’ tears in my eyes. Good for you that you stuck with it and fixed it. Your donkeys and nuggets and that beautiful farm won the lottery when you became apart of their life.

  6. I think there are few things better than a fantastically bearded man cooking, so it sounds like it turned out pretty well!

  7. ha – the other comments are all about the big picture lesson in your post, and I’m still agog at the implications of “muck which has finally thawed out enough…” as in – frozen muck. Frozen muck 18 inches deep. Wow. Winter on the farm, indeed.

      1. It basically looks and smells like dirt when it’s fully composted. For manure, MysteryMan’s grandpa (a real farmer) always said it was good to go when dried out, but for bedding I wait until it’s broken down.

  8. Wow, what a great lesson. I will remember this every time something doesn’t come my way because “I don’t have the money”. As said above, you are an inspiration! Thanks.

  9. I have thought many times that a big lottery win would ruin everything that I love about myself. 🙂

  10. First thought, introduce the guy to farm “stuff” as early as possible. I decided my husband was a keeper after he helped me clean icky winter stalls…on roughly our third date.

    Also, awesome that you learned how to fix things and made it through. I am not the tractor operator in the family, but I still find this fully inspirational.

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