June 26, 2012 § 5 Comments
The current stretch of rainy weather has been most welcome; after nearly two weeks of perfect haying weather, things were starting to feel a bit dry, and the relief we felt as the first drops starting pinging against the tin roof above our bedroom was like exhaling a breath held two beats too long. I’ve been moving the cows to fresh pasture twice daily, and legs of all my pants are soaked from pushing through the tall grass. I don’t even bother to change anymore, and have become accustomed to the clamminess of wet denim against skin.
I suppose we are pushing hard right now, although motivation and energy levels are high enough that it doesn’t really feel like it. The list of daily chores is long and multi-faceted: Feed and water the pigs, the meat birds, and the layers. Move the sheep to fresh pasture, then the cows. Bottle feed Pip, our two-week-old heifer that Penny is intent on training to pull. Milk. Tend the gardens. In between, fell trees and mill lumber, find and haul foundation stones for the new barn. Finish splitting firewood for the coming winter. Tractor work for the neighbors. And so on.
Having just submitted a complete draft of book #3, I am allowing myself to pretend for a few weeks that I don’t need to figure out what the hell I’m going to do next. This is a bit of a dangerous game, dependent on our not spending on anything but the most essential goods and services. And even then, it can’t last much longer. Ideas come and go, I turn them over and then back again, sometimes in silence, sometimes out loud, trying them on for size. It often feels to me as if the ideas that intrigue me most are the ones that seem least likely to be salable.
But in truth, I’m pretty sure I’m just putting up roadblocks, trying to extend my working vacation to its last sweat-streaked, shit-stained, pants-soaked moment, and I’m damn grateful to be able to do so.
June 13, 2012 § 7 Comments
We just finished a 4-day stretch of haying and we are whupped. As always, it was satisfying beyond any logic or reason. We pulled the last few bales off the field yesterday afternoon just as the rain started falling, and it felt like someone was trying to tell us it was time to rest.
The following is excerpted from an essay I wrote last year. It will be published in an upcoming issue of Yankee magazine.
On haying days, Penny mixes thick milkshakes and we drink them on the ride home, the four of us crammed into the cab of our old Chevy. We idle down the winding gravel road from Martha’s hayfield; the loaded wagon pushes us, and I ride the brakes. Oncoming traffic gives us a wide berth, and wisely so. Everyone waves in that two-fingers-off-the-steering-wheel way rural Vermonters wave, as if afraid to commit to even this brief, passing relationship. I can smell the warm hay, the hot brakes, and the chopped up sprigs of mint Penny puts into the sweet slurry of cream, egg, and maple syrup. I can smell the sweat that has risen, flowed, and is now drying on my skin. It is not sour, or at least, not yet. My teeth hurt from the cold, and I know that my day is nowhere near over. There is this wagon to unload, and yet another to fill. There will be more tomorrow. But for the seven or eight minutes it takes to get home, I am afforded the simple luxury of the satisfaction only hard labor can provide, and I think ahead to the coming winter, when I will pull each of these bales out of our barn, one-by-one, extracts of summer in an iced-over world.
And I will remember how it happens every year that I improbably recognize a bale or two – maybe a runt from an early pass, when we were fiddling with the baler settings, or maybe one from the field’s edge, with an identifying stick woven in, shed from the old maples that line the northern fringe, overseers of more hay and toil than I can imagine. And I’ll stand in our snow-packed barnyard for a minute, holding the bale, wrenched back to the moment I hauled it off the chute and tossed it to Penny or one of the boys as Martha guided the tractor down the long windrow, the smell of grease and diesel and drying hay riding softly on the summer air.
It’s not a moment frozen in time, but rather just the opposite: A moment so fluid it can travel across weeks and even months to be with me at six o’clock on a January morning, to a point roughly equidistant from the haying season before and the haying season to come.
Then I walk up the short hill to the paddock, release the compressed hay from the confines of its twine, throw it over the fence, and leave the cows to their breakfast.