Well, shame on us. All these years we have taken Ranger for granted. We never even took a picture of him – I mean one of those posed portraits, like gardeners do with special daylilies, or camellias, or roses. Except once in 2003, when he looked like he had the measles after Hurricane Isabel. (We can’t honestly count that one.)
In fact, mostly we tried to keep him out of pictures, because we wanted the garden to look high-falutin’. Ranger definitely did not add a high-falutin’ tone to our plantings.
The other day we took count, and we realized we’ve been living in the South for thirty years. Twenty-five of those years were with Ranger.
I’d say we’re almost southern now (though our northern roots still go pretty deep) and Ranger played a big part of that change in perspective.
Today, Ranger, our 1992 Ford pick-up truck, is bruised with dents, leaks, rust and clouded paint, but we count on his being there with us all the same. (Even if we haven’t taken any portrait pictures of him.)
Ranger has been a rollicking good partner all these years: hauling mulch, carrying loads of “cotton dirt,” or peanut hulls, or over-sized timbers – even palettes of bricks.
Plants, too, hundreds of them over years of trekking to plant sales. Often loaded so heavily, Ranger seemed to groan as his chassis sank to within a hair of the rear axle.
One time the cargo was light but precious. A neighbor who received an emergency call from her daughter’s school borrowed Ranger.
In the flurry of the moment, we almost forgot to mention that she needn’t worry about Ranger’s gas gauge closing in on Empty. Ranger could run for miles on fumes without a grumble. Small comfort to a harried mother.
But Ranger came through like a fine old steed.
After Hurricane Isabel, Ranger rose to yet another challenge. When pine trees fell on the house, they damaged plants in our front bed. We eyed the plants. We eyed each other. Digging out was not an option.
The Captain roped up each plant and, one by one, tied their ropes to Ranger’s hitch. As Ranger revved and heaved, the ropes threatened to shred to tatters. Ranger slid and his tires spun and gouged the grass, but those stubborn shrubs finally broke loose from their moorings.
Did we take a picture of this Herculean achievement? Nope. The wheel barrow was more interesting.
It wasn’t all pulling and hauling, though. Lazy streams and hazy reflections, and herons croaking, and osprey keening, and turtles basking lured us out of the garden and into some of the prettiest wild areas you can find in this country.
So we installed a roof rack on Ranger.
Some days we would load up with canoes (until they got bashed by hurricanes) or later, kayaks for paddles on one or another of the creeks that lace the land here. Light cargo then, if you don’t count the weight of four riders squoze into a cozy cab — and ample lunches.
There were work days, too. We explored and mapped launch sites for paddlers and helped set mileage markers in rivers. Along the way, we created A Green Guide to the Albemarle on our web site (AEA on the Web.org). Ranger carried us on every trip, but he never made it into the photos.
Ranger’s been running for 85,000 miles. For those math-inclined souls, that’s only 3400 hard miles a year.
The transmission still has gears and the engine still chugs. The gas gauge has given up, but so have our joints.
We’ve replaced springs, gas tank, tires, mirrors, windshield, lights, fan belts. The doors creak. When Ranger balked at carrying heavy wet loads of compost we added helper springs so he could carry more weight.
The tailgate is recalcitrant.
The driver’s seat is frozen in place, so the short-legged one balances on the edge when she has to drive. (Rarely.) The local body shop refused to refurbish.
The Captain, now promoted to Chief Engineering Officer (CEO) took the challenge. He chinked leaks and buffed sore patches. It took him days, but lately Ranger has a faint whiff of respectability.
Except that the bed is usually littered with detritus. We park in the woods.
As long as we are gardening, we will never sell Ranger. (Not that anyone has offered to buy.)
While we can still count on Ranger to forge ahead each season, we are not interested in investing in a shiny new vehicle with new-fangled gimmicks that will make us feel guilty if we don’t spit and polish.
Even now, this winter, ignored for weeks, Ranger has been patiently waiting with a ton of drainage rock in his bed.
One day, when the rains stop sluicing, we will heft the bags of rock into the wheel barrow (whose portrait is above) and channel wayward puddles.
Note to fellow gardeners: If you garden in a swamp, plan to spend some time slogging.)
Anyway, after twenty-five years, Ranger’s got the flavor of an old-time southern truck, but without the gun rack or dog kennel.
And I guess that means we have a certain southern flavor, too.
Bob turned 80 this year, and I will soon follow.
When you think about it, I guess you could say that we are growing old with Ranger.
And it’s been good.
Our good neighbor, Carole, who drives a Cadillac, has this to say: “I laughed so hard about Ranger the truck. After George passed away and the kids helped clean out the shed you being the best neighbors on earth Bob told them they could use the truck to haul the stuff to the dump when he noticed they were trying to get everything in my car. They came in to tell me and I said oh please no I don’t want to scratch his truck or mess it up. I swear that truck looks really, really, really good for its age. I always thought it was on the new side. . .”
Good friend Steve, whose property dates from George Washington’s surveying days, adds: “SWEET news letter! I think you have adjusted great to “southern” life, and so glad we became good friends. You guys have been so good to us, and please know Bob’s advice along the way influenced me a lot on my barn project life. And what great times we’ve had square dancing. . .” (Ranger hauled tools and material for work on the barn.)
Ranger, we salute you!