Family, Farming

Baled Out

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.