By Bill Stork, DVM
It was mid-July 2005. Recently removed from my home and half of all I had worked for, at times the only thing preventing me from dropping to the fetal position was the thought of having to stand up again. Buddhists tell us not to try and escape the low times, but explore them. I was simply trying to survive. Relegated to the ranks of a part-time dad, and trying to “redefine”, I had taken up residence on the same five acres where Becky and Lyle Wallace had planned to raise their three boys, a couple horses, a few pigs, and some vegetables.
On the North side of the house was a perfect rocking chair porch that overlooked the monument maple, and a one-acre “Field of Dreams”. Three mostly rotten, once white boards surrounded the paddock, clinging precariously to fence posts that stood at any angle from 90 to nearly 45 degrees. Remnants of insulators and broken strands of number 16 wire suggested that someone had once hoped to keep animals. A rusted red, twelve foot gate hung limp off a broken corner post, nary an angle brace to be found.
I stood on the concrete in my best pair of Levi’s and three-year-old Red Wing 402’s, contemplating how to get from where I was. The rising sun knifed the morning dew between the hip-roof dairy barn and wood shed. Steam rolled off the dark black brew in the bottom of the hand-thrown, wood-fired mug gifted by my friend, Mark the potter.
I imagined a soccer goal on each end of the pasture. The third fence post by the road would be the north sideline; a pair of sweatpants, the south. Some days we could pull three pieces of cardboard out of the recycling bin and play baseball. When Calvin could hit the ball into the weeds on the next farm, we could switch to whiffle ball.
Norman Rockwell and Kishan Khemani would be proud, but today there was a problem. As if Lyle and Becky had planted them, the entire field was covered with the most majestic stand of burdock this side of the redwood forests. Conceivable to anyone who knew Lyle, in the sense that burdock is used as an herb in Asian cooking, and its roots are coveted by homeopaths for their ability to “purify” the blood and support the liver. Most importantly, it sells for $14.95 per pound.
On this particular day my blood seemed fine, and liver in perfect working order. Bacon and eggs are more my style than pasture weeds on spinach, and it seemed there must be better ways to pull down $15.00.
After a couple sick cows and a full book of small animal appointments, I picked up my son and daughter in time for a late lunch. As I was picking up the dishes, my daughter moped into the kitchen, shoulders hanging low and on the brink of tears. She had been out exploring the property in her favorite hockey hoodie. “Chicks with Sticks” on the front, a silver star next to her name and jersey number on the back, it was now covered permanently with George de Mestral’s inspiration for the creation of Velcro: burdock seeds.
To a dad in need of a physical outlet for his emotional pain, this meant war.
Man has been battling burdock for centuries. In a recent installment of his Sunday column, Michael Perry recounts a similar situation. His weapon of choice was a tractor and brush hog. Though I had no four foot, diesel-powered weapon of mass destruction, failure was not an option. Ace Hardware was only 20 minutes down Interstate 94. An hour later I returned, armed with a Stihl FS 90 commercial weed trimmer with brush blade, and two gallons of 25:1.
Lest another garment suffer the same fate as Paige’s sweatshirt, I needed a uniform impenetrable to the noxious weed and its heinous seed pod. There simply was not time to consider afternoon temperatures approaching 80 degrees or the first impression of my new neighbors. I geared up. Like hiking to a down cow in a blizzard, I pulled out the rip-stop, 100% rubber, Helly Hansen foul weather fishing jacket and tugged the drawstring tight around my face and waist. With the pants to match pulled over my 5-buckle Lacrosse overshoes, I was bullet proof.
With three pushes on the primer and one pull, the German machine growled to life. Outnumbered like Rambo, I waded into battle, vowing not to come out until every stalk was on the ground or I passed out from dehydration.
Three hours and two tanks of fuel later, I walked through the broken red gate, laid my weapon down , stripped off my armor, and poured the sweat from my boots. With a skid-loader and bale forks I plowed and stacked the carcasses into a compacted pile the size of a UPS truck. With one match, 5 gallons of Boy Scout water and a six pack of Rocky’s Revenge, the first battle was won.
By midnight the flames died and the smoke from what had been a field of weed eighteen hours previous filtered through the maple branches. I am not sure whether there was any correlation, but I did develop a powerful case of the munchies. If I achieved higher thought or deeper state of awareness, I do not recall. What I do know is that, for that one day, I had a small victory.
The war would wage for months. By way of chemical warfare, a Ransome’s 23 horse ZTR and a 10 Ton Bomag vibrating asphalt roller, the dream that started with a cup of coffee and a ruined hoodie would become a reality.