first it actually sounded like river music, soft, steady
and easy on the ears. Staring out over the Animas River’s
swollen flow, it was an obvious connection. It also was
what I wanted to hear on that day, a favorite sound in
a favorite spot.
But unlike river music, this sound started growing in
intensity. It was the same slow and easy “plink-plop,
plink-plop” but becoming ever louder. Curiosity
growing, my eyes left the river behind for a moment and
scanned the horizon.
There in the distance, with its blade lifted, a smallish
bulldozer in faded yellow ambled up the county road. Instantly,
my river music evaporated beneath tank treads clinking
on asphalt. My mind was blown under the slow motion of
hardened steel and the puff of exhaust. Fascination became
Save for a heated, but ultimately disappointing, toddler’s
love affair with Tonka, heavy machinery has never done
it for me. I once dug, dumped and compacted, but only
on a sand-box scale. Backhoes seemed best with plenty
of moving pieces, two buckets and big rear tires.
But big rear tires and moving parts don’t count
for much in the fifth grade and beyond. By high school,
my attention was focused on nonmetallic moving parts.
And after donning my first blue collar, I was never considered
competent enough to operate the big dogs and happily became
a shovel specialist.
Lately, heavy equipment has too often been an unhappy
messenger. Earth movers tend toward high speed, blitzing
across natural landscapes in a fury of beeps. In their
wake, they leave sculpted bluegrass contrails.
Still, on that day at the Animas, there was something
so seductive about the sound. In contrast to the familiar
roar and beep, it was soft and deliberate. It had pace
and meaning, rhythm and purpose. And I watched intently
as the cat inched up the road, following a powerful lure
back into the sand box.
As it approached, I saw one of the valley’s remaining
ranchers, riding with pride and surveying his surroundings
with wide eyes. He, too, was moving in slow motion, partly
to gratify the machine, but I sensed more to feast his
senses and feed his mind on the magic of his section of
this river valley and a life’s work.
And as he moved down that road, it became clear that,
to him, the dozer was no bigger than a common fencing
hammer. It had the same end as a spade and was a tool
used to shape the earth with care. What set him and the
tool apart were elements of style and grace. With him
at the wheel, the noise dropped to a level of softness,
the machine gained a romantic nature. River music, indeed.
As he puttered out of sight, I climbed back out of the
I gently pulled on and deliberately snapped my helmet,
slipped back into my pedals with two mellow clicks and
eased my bike into gear. Moving my machine down the road,
I eased back, slowed down and looked around the Animas
Valley. No need to rush today, I thought. No need to dull
Gradually, the turn of my pedals and the grind of rubber
gained a softness, a harmony. And my short afternoon spin
beneath blue skies began to play like river music.