Hay There

June 20, 2011 § 2 Comments

In about an hour, Penny and the boys and I will climb into the wooden hay wagon belonging to our friend M. The wagon will be hooked behind the square baler; the baler will be connected to M’s enormous John Deere. We’ll lurch out across the field, which spans the crest of a hilltop about a mile west of our home. And the bales will start coming, one after another after another, until we’ve collected the 1,000 or so M needs for her farm, and another 500 or so that will form a down payment on our animal’s winter feed.

Putting up square bales is hard work. M does not have a kicker, which is a contraption that launches the bales into the wagon. Instead, we pull each bale off the baler, stack it in the wagon, pull the wagon to the barn, unload and restack. Every year during haying, Penny makes milkshakes for dinner, and we drink the shakes in the truck, driving slowly down the dirt road that drops from M’s farm to the paved road that leads to our driveway. By the end of the day, which is to say by the time it’s too dark to see anything more than the faint outline of the tractor from the wagon, we feel giddy with exhaustion and the simple relief of knowing that our cows and sheep will be fed for another winter. Of all the things I love about haying (and there are many), perhaps my favorite is the knowledge that every day, all winter, I’ll be pulling apart those bales. And that every time I do, I’ll feel a sliver of that giddiness. That, and the smell, which is summer encapsulated. Feeding out hay is like feeding out little pieces of summer, and damned if I can’t taste it, too.

I used to bemoan that fact that we do not have an adequate hayfield on our 40-acres. Now, after more than a half-decade of haying with our friend, I am enormously grateful that we do not. In 21st century America, there are too few tasks that pull people together of necessity; we are fortunate to live in a community where these tasks are still part of the cultural fabric, and I try to take none of them for granted. Still, the essential nature of putting up feed for our animals, coupled with the vagaries of weather and equipment, and the simply physicality of it seem to lend haying a gravitas that outweighs all others.

Someday, with her permission, maybe I will write more about M. For now, know this: She is in her 60’s, an ex-Olympian, and loves haying at least as much as we do.

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