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The large John Deere tractor lurched awkwardly as I steered it off the paved, country road and aligned it with the rows in the field. My job that day was to cultivate a cotton field that had been left fallow. The rows had been pulled earlier in the spring but it had not been seeded.
Now, as the mid-summer sun beat down on the field near Bakersfield, California, the weeds needed to be cultivated out before they went to seed. Without coming to a complete stop I slowed the big tractor down, centered it for my first pass, and eased the six-row cultivator down right on target.
I had traversed the field several times when something in the path of the tractor caught my sight. Almost impossible to see was a Killdeer nest on the soil with the mother Killdeer nestled quietly on its’ eggs. Usually, as danger approaches, a Killdeer will scurry away from its’ nest and feign a broken wing. This is an attempt to distract the danger away from the nest. But this pint-sized mother was stayed put.
I slowed down a bit but continued on. Surely she would spook off. As I neared, I lost sight of the mother bird as the tractor roared over her nest. This was more than I could stand. I might have cultivated over some eggs, but to do so to a mother bird. Well, I just couldn’t.
I stopped the tractor, dismounted and looked under the rig. There she was just inches from the steel cultivating shanks. Firmly, she remained set at her post. I realized that she would die before she would budge.
Humbled, I climbed back up, pulled the hydraulic handle, and lifted the cultivator up. I eased the huge machine forward, just enough to miss the nest, before I lowered it again and continued on. Behind me was a small strip of missed weeds and the mother bird safe on her nest.
As I was finishing up later in the day my boss drove up. I dismounted and walked over to his pick-up. His satisfied gaze across the field turned to puzzlement as he noticed the bright patch of green in an otherwise brown field.
“What happened out there”?
He asked non-judgmentally. I explained about the mother bird. I expected a scolding or at least a good belly laugh. Instead he looked down at a spot on the ground that held no particular importance and said quietly, “I’ve done that a few times myself “. “We’ll catch it the next time.”