Resuscitating the Hay Barn

photo by Nate Gibson

This is the week of the year our barn is at its emptiest, right before it fills up again.  There is something very lonely about a barn completely empty of its hay stores.   Its hollow interior echoes with a century of farmers’ voices, whether soothing an upset cow during a difficult milking, or uncovering a litter of kittens high in a hay loft, possibly shouting orders to a steady workhorse, even startling out loud as a barn owl flies low overhead, or grumbling over a dead tractor battery.    The dust motes lazily drift by in the twilight, seemingly forever suspended above the straw covered wood floor, floating protected from the cooling evening breezes.

There is no heart beat left in an empty barn.  It is in full arrest, all life blood drained out, vital signs flat lined.   I can hardly bear to go inside.

If the weather cooperates before July 4, we’ll be cutting the grass the first day, strewing it about on the field to dry in a process called “tedding” the next, raking it into windrows the third,  and then baling it for pick up by our “family and friends” hay crew.  Suddenly, the barn is shocked back to a pulse, with the throb of voices, music blaring, dust and pollen flying chaotically, the rattle of the electric “elevator” hauling bales from wagon to loft,  the grunts and groans of the crew as they heft and heave the bales into place in the stack.  This often goes on late into the night, the barn ablaze with lights, the barnyard buzzing with excitement and activity.   It almost looks as if it is on fire.

Vital signs measurable, rhythm restored,  volume depletion reversed, prognosis good for another year.

A healthy rhythm is elusive in this modern age of full time jobs off the farm, necessitating careful coordination with the schedule of the farmer who cuts and bales for many neighbors all within the same window of good weather, plus adding in the high cost of fuel and labor.   The farmer races his equipment from field to field, swooping around with a goliath tractor taking 12 foot swaths, raising dust clouds, and then on to the next job.   It is so unlike the rhythm of a century ago when a horse drawn mower cut the tall grass in a gentle four foot swath, with a pulsing shh shh shh shh shh shh tempo that could be heard stretching across the fields. It is an unfamiliar sound today, the almost-silence of no motor at all, just the jingle of the harness and the mower blades slicing back and forth as the team pulls the equipment down the field.  We’ve lost the peacefulness of a team of horses at work, necessitating a slower pace and the need to stop at the end of a row for a breather.

Benjamin Janicki of Sedro Woolley raking hay with his team of Oberlanders

The old barn will be resuscitated once again.  Its floor will creak with the weight of the hay bales, the walls will groan with the pressure of stacks.  The missing shingles on the roof will be replaced and the doors locked tight against the winter winds.  But it will be breathing on its own, having needed only a short rest these last few weeks.

Inside, once again, filled to the brim, life is held tight by twine, just waiting to be released.

photo by Nate Gibson

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