Burning quack grass comedy of errors

As do all great and complex endeavors, this one too started out innocently enough. "Dad, we'd like to get married here on the farm, down here in this hollow." So said A Daughter, standing here with her betrothed and me, the three of us up to our ...

As do all great and complex endeavors, this one too started out innocently enough. "Dad, we'd like to get married here on the farm, down here in this hollow." So said A Daughter, standing here with her betrothed and me, the three of us up to our armpits in wild grasses, teetering on gopher mounds so tall and steep that they, due to their geometry, actually added 50 percent to the tillable surface area.

"You used to mow this, didn't you, dad?"

Yes. Yes I did. Twenty years ago. Before the gophers drove me out. As a marrying place, I could see the attraction. It was a small, natural bowl, around which the people could sit. "We'll move the gazebo down here," said The Daughter.

We will? Oh, sure, we will. Just as much possible as ever getting this ground back to a reasonable facsimile of a lawn, I suppose. So I thought to myself.

"Oh, sure," I replied. "All this sounds great." So do all great and complex endeavors begin. As soon as they had left to attend college in another state, I began my campaign to win this territory back from the quack grass, bull thistles, and gophers. First, I would take my heavy disc and big tractor and level all this stuff out.


The heavy disc and big tractor, to make a long story short, even though I made pass after pass after pass, knocked down the tall grass, but then, it just lay there and refused to be cut into smaller pieces. Plus, it formed such a thick matt that it protected the earth from the disc. Hence the gopher mounds remained as before.

I hooked onto the hay rake and began to rake what I had loosened up into windrows, which, once done, were formed of wet, heavy quack grass roots. They were allowed to dry for a couple of days, at which point, about 6 o'clock in the evening, I decided to pitch them into a trailer and haul them away. An optimist is someone who can look at nearly an acre of ground filled with windrows of quack grass and believe he can pitch these into a trailer.

That would be me. I hooked a single axle trailer up to my '85 Chevy Blazer, which I had just had repainted, drove the rig down there into the hollow, pitched it heaping high with thick, still-dank grass, and looked around. It looked like there was about 2 percent in the trailer, 98 percent left in the field. I leaned on the pitchfork, a little out of breath. This stuff had mostly refused to dry, and each forkful was heavy.

So. This isn't going to cut it. Maybe it would burn. So I walked up the steep slope of the bowl, or hollow, grabbed the torch out of the garage, went back down, checked the wind--a little out of the south, nothing too extreme--and walked over to one of the windrows. Surprise. It lit. Didn't burn real good, pretty acrid and smoky, but it burned. I spent the next 15 minutes lighting the rest of the windrows.

Then I stood up, smugly satisfied, and looked back at what I had done. THE TRAILER WAS ON FIRE! I ran over to it, grabbed the pitchfork and attempted to pull the burning portion out. BUT EACH TIME I STABBED IT, IT GOT MORE AIR AND BURNED HIGHER! No problem. I'll just jump in the Blazer, pull the whole works up to the yard next to a garden hose, and extinguish it there.

I jumped in, fired up the engine, slammed it into drive--I'm kind of in a hurry, you know--and took off. I looked in the rear view mirror. THE FASTER I DROVE, THE HIGHER THE FLAMES JUMPED! Drive fast? Drive slow? At this point it came to me that I had cancelled the insurance on the Blazer two days before. As I drove and looked in the rear view mirror, it appeared I had a fire-breathing dragon hot on my tail.

I slammed it into park up in the yard, directed the garden hose on it. IT WOULDN'T GO OUT! I jumped in the Blazer, drove a little further around the loop away from the house, and pitchfork-dragged the contents out onto the driveway, where it could burn all it wanted. Five minutes later, after dragging forkful after forkful of heavy smoky acrid lung burning grass out, I was completely out of breath, but it was over.

I walked back over to the lip of the bowl to see how that was doing. THE FIRE HAD SPREAD TO THE 40-ACRE GRASS FIELD! But not too far. I ran down, tried to stamp it out. Okay, it had spread further than that. I ran back up, grabbed a long handled scoop shovel, thinking I could smack it out. Ran back down. EACH TIME I HIT IT, IT SPREAD FURTHER!


No sweat. I had a hundred gallons of water ready on another tractor, with which I was going to spray thistles the next day. I'd fetch that. Nonetheless, the fire was headed for my spruce wind break, so, better hurry. I RAN! Up the bowl, again. Halfway to the tractor sprayer, I stopped. My heart was beating so fast I couldn't find a pulse. Good thing this is almost over.


Some idiot, that would be me, the optimist.

So this is pretty much the end of the story.

Yes, I had to call the fire department.

"Yup," one of them said, "this is a nice little fire you got here."

That hurt.

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