It's that time of year again. 90 (plus) degrees, pollen thick in the air, the sounds of tractors speeding down the road and hay wagons bouncing along behind. "You have to make hay when the sun shines" is a quote I heard many times as a child but all it meant growing up in Brooklyn was that it was time to get my chores done. As an adult that has spent decades’ worth of summers putting up hay it has taken on its true meaning.
Blistering temperatures are a must in order to properly dry hay, sunburn your skin and take your breath away. Teetering on the edge of a wagon as it bounces through woodchucks holes and dried up culverts will give you and the wagon’s axles a far better work out than anything that sadistic workout nazi at your favorite gym or car testers can muster up. Your ankles and knees work in unison to keep your body stable in order to avoid plunging to the ground behind a machine with giant blades and teeth that is designed to push anything and everything into its gaping maw and deliver it to the edge of said wagon ready for stacking – of course with any luck you will avoid the mouth of the beast and be left running to catch up and climb back aboard the wagon before the bales back up and jam up the entire works.
Now you may ask – “why not give a yell to the bloke running the tractor”? Good question but this has a very easy answer – that bloke is sitting on top of a 40 horse power engine attached to the chewing and gnashing baler and couldn’t hear a nuclear explosion if it blasted 10 feet in front of him.
Now that you’re back on the wagon time to stack those bales. This entails the lifting of 40-50 pound bales of dry grass up and over your head as the bales stack up 6, then 7 then 8 tiers high. The bales must be held away from your body as you lift in order to avoid being cut to ribbons by the packed blades of grass and timothy hay which when on the ground or loosely piled has a lovely soft feel. But when packed into bales this seemingly innocuous substance suddenly takes on a needle-like ability to penetrate through the toughest of jeans and lodge itself painfully into your skin. Hay also has the amazing ability to find its way into places on your body that never see daylight and were never intended to harbor hay.
Once the wagon is full all people and machinery head to the barn. Once all arrive at the barn and the hay elevator is hooked up it is time to place the bales on the conveyor and watch them disappear into the hay mow – that is for those lucky enough to have successfully convinced the other hay workers that allergies, asthma, or some other respiratory difficulty would actually cause a possible life-threatening situation if they were to even venture to try to work in the mow. Yes the hay mow is not a nice place to be – add at least 20 degrees to the outside temperature, dust, the challenge of walking on hay that was already stacked (which is what I imagine walking on scrambled eggs would be like) and both people and machines depositing and/or throwing hay at (hopefully) your feet and you start to get the picture. Oh yes and let’s not forget that this is the top of the barn where no air has been for a very long time.
You repeat all of the above at least 6 more times throughout each day for at least 3-4 days and at long last the barn is full of hay. Your arms look as though you have waded through a sea of spiny sea urchins, you can no longer lift your arms high enough to sip a glass of water, you’ve gone through two pairs of jeans and several t-shirts that are not even in good enough shape to wash the car and you are done – well at least until second cutting time comes around.
Each night you head for the shower – never did such a simple thing feel so good. And at the end of those 3-4 days you stand at the bottom of this mountain of hay that you helped cut, bale and put away for the winter to come and you breathe in deeply and what you smell is fresh air, clean living and an honest days’ work. What I smell cannot be explained – I have always thought that fresh cut hay smells like turquoise - if turquoise had a smell that is – I don’t know why but there it is – and it is one of the best smells I have ever smelled.
Happy haying and see ya ‘round the barnyard.