Rick and his dog Oliver arrive late this morning, ready for another round of clearing downed trees. At first, I'm not thinking there will be much news to report. I'm expecting another long day with more of the same: pulling downed trees out of our woods. And it is, right up until the moment when Rick nonchalantly asks a question I've been hoping to hear ever since his excavator arrived on our land:
So, do you want to drive it?
Almost before the words escape his mouth, I exclaim, "Hell yes! I've been waiting for you to ask!" Hopping in, I feel like a kid in a candy shop, or more accurately, a kid in an arcade about to play the crane game. Honestly, I'm so excited I can't stop smiling. This thing is awesome! I feel like a five year old with a new toy as Rick explains how all the levers, foot pedals, and switches work.
Maneuvering a machine this big with any amount of precision is a lot harder than Rick makes it look. After just a few minutes in the cab, I have a whole new appreciation for his skill. Avoiding small obstacles (like all of our precious young trees!) is not easy. And yet, the controls of the excavator are very intuitive, and I can totally see how, with enough time, the machine would feel like an extension of my body.
In a matter of minutes, I've picked up a 20+ foot log, and I'm carrying it up the driveway to deposit on a heaping pile of lumber we're going to split into firewood. Awesome!
When Tyler is through playing around, it's my turn to give the excavator a try. Sitting up so high, with all the controls and levers at my disposal, I feel like I'm in one of those long-legged walking tanks in Star Wars, or that gigantic world-destroying robot-thing in Avatar. Rick just chuckles when I ask him where the jetpacks and rocket launchers are.
Before I go any further, Rick suggests lowering the excavator's rear blade for more stability. After flipping a switch and giving the joystick a tug, the butt end of the excavator bucks upwards! HOOOwee! The herky-jerky move takes me by surprise, and suddenly I'm back in Tunisia on a smelly camel as it awkwardly lurches upright, butt-first.
Once my orientation is complete, my task begins: I'm to pluck a tree stump from one side of the road and deposit it in our burn pile on the other. Slowly and gracefully, in a coordinated ballet of maneuvers, I open my metal maw until it's wide and gaping. Then, I close my jaws around the stump, clenching firmly. With a pull of a lever, I draw my long giraffe's neck upwards, bringing the stump with it.
Without much ado, the stump pulls free of the ground, showering the scene with clumps of earth. Making sure neither men are in the way, I swing the boom around, still clutching the rooted mass, and deposit it with a rumbling crash on our burn pile. Success! And with that awesome, intimidating experience under my belt (it's kind of scary to wield so much destructive power), my turn is over, and I happily surrender the controls to Rick.
Rick resumes his work for another few hours, and then we all call it quits for the day. Since he's headed out on vacation soon, and we're going back to the Midwest for a couple of months shortly after, we're all through with the excavator until spring. I'm glad we've both gotten the chance to maneuver the giant beast!