Whump and Clatter




Photos from the natural fiber dyeing workshop our friend Prin gave this past weekend

I spent yesterday afternoon riding the wagon behind Martha’s baler, hauling bale after bale off the metal chute and stacking them behind me like child’s blocks. There were 679 bales in total and I couldn’t help but do the math: 679 x 40-pounds = 14 tons of hay. (Actually, it doesn’t: It actually equals only 27,160-pounds of hay, but I didn’t have a calculator in the hay field and I was too labor-addled to do the hard math in my head, so I rounded the 679 to 700). Fourteen tons of hay lifted, carried, and stacked. I looked down at my arms and discreetly flexed a bicep. It was less impressive than I’d hoped.

I have not been riding the wagon much the past couple haying seasons. Steven has pretty much taken over that job, leaving me to ferry wagons back and forth to the barn, where Penny, Roman, and the boys unload. I don’t mind ferrying wagons; I like driving tractors and ferrying wagons is all about driving tractors, and in particular the old iron that Martha favors and which is impeccably maintained by her friend Don, a Vietnam vet whose tattoo count rivals the word count of the longest sentence I’ve yet to hear him speak. It occurs to me that I could learn a thing or two from a guy like that.

I’d missed being in the field, the metronomic whump and clatter of the baler, Martha on the Deere, cupping her cigarette from the breeze, the fatigue slowly rising in my body and the boys, having abandoned their post in the barn, racing their bikes down the hills of the fresh-shorn hayfield. I can hear their shrieking over the machinery and I think how can I want anything more than this? I can’t. I don’t. 28,000-pounds of hay in three-and-a-half hours. Shrieking boys. Cigarette smoke and diesel exhaust. The whump and clatter and the remembering of all the little tricks of balance and timing.

You know what? I didn’t drop a single bale.



16 thoughts on “Whump and Clatter”

  1. Do you smoke cigarettes? I guess I have imagined that you didn’t. I did (started when i was 15/16 and quit when I was 21 years old). Still would love to again. If some doctor told me I was going to die in a few weeks, buying a pack of smokes would be high on my list of priorities. But anyway, Will recommended I read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim and I did. And I mostly loved it. But halfway through she was dancing with muskrats and smoking a cigarette and it blew my mind somehow. She smokes! I don’t know why I thought it was strange. But you don’t smoke, do you?

  2. When I was about 10, I got to spend a few days with a friend on her grandpa’s small dairy farm in Kansas. He taught me how to milk a cow by hand, drive a tractor, and move hay bales in the hay loft, how not to step between bales, and how to make sure the bale hook swung to my side, away from my calf muscle. My friend and I made mud pies in the cow pasture and the cows all came over to watch. I loved it there and still remember what he taught me. 🙂

  3. Thanks for doing the hay math! DH and I just put up 180 bales of 2nd cut last night, but earlier in the summer we did 750 bales. Nice to be able to brag about a couple of past-40 old fogies tossing around 14+ tons of hay, LOL.

  4. I can almost smell the scent of the hay and feel the sun on my skin. Ah who am I kidding. I’m inside with the fire on wearing a wool jumper, dreaming of the smell of cut grass and summer heat but I know when those days are here I will be dreaming of the cool early spring days, of wearing wonderful wool and cooking on the wood stove once again. 🙂
    Thanks for the wonderful imagery.

  5. I remember reading an opinion somewhere that putting up hay was like standing in an oven and rubbing yourself with a Brillo pad. I’m assuming whoever wrote that doesn’t enjoy the task as much as the rest of us do. The smell alone does it for me. Quintessential summer.

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