Every hay crew is the same
though the names change;
young men flexing their muscles,
a seasoned farmer defying his age
tossing four bales high,
determined girls bucking up on the wagon,
young children rolling bales closer,
add a school teacher, pastor,
professor, lawyer and doctor
getting sweaty and dusty
united in being farmers
if only for an evening.
cut side up
steadying the load
riding over hills
in slow motion
eagles over head
searching the bare fields
evening alpen glow
Friends and neighbors
walking the dotted pastures,
piling on the wagons,
driving the truck,
riding the top of hay stack
in the evening breeze,
filling empty barn space to the rafters,
making gallons of lemonade in the kitchen.
A hearty meal consumed
of summer baled, stored, preserved
for another year.
frosty autumn mornings before dawn
when bales are broken for feed
and fragrant summer spills forth
in the dead of winter.
Through all the pleasant meadow-side The grass grew shoulder-high, Till the shining scythes went far and wide And cut it down to dry.
Those green and sweetly smelling crops They led the waggons home; And they piled them here in mountain tops For mountaineers to roam.
Here is Mount Clear, Mount Rusty-Nail, Mount Eagle and Mount High;– The mice that in these mountains dwell, No happier are than I!
Oh, what a joy to clamber there, Oh, what a place for play, With the sweet, the dim, the dusty air, The happy hills of hay! ~Robert Louis Stevenson “Hay Loft Poem”
The Old Hay-mow’s the place to play Fer boys, when it’s a rainy day! I good-‘eal ruther be up there Than down in town, er anywhere!When I play in our stable-loft, The good old hay’s so dry an’ soft, An’ feels so fine, an’ smells so sweet, I ‘most ferget to go an’ eat.An’ one time wunst I _did_ ferget To go ‘tel dinner was all et,– An’ they had short-cake–an’–Bud he Hogged up the piece Ma saved fer me!
Nen I won’t let him play no more In our hay-mow where I keep store An’ got hen-eggs to sell,–an’ shoo The cackle-un old hen out, too!
An’ nen, when Aunty she was here A-visitun from Rensselaer, An’ bringed my little cousin,–_he_ Can come up there an’ play with me.
But, after while–when Bud he bets ‘At I can’t turn no summersetts,– I let him come up, ef he can Ac’ ha’f-way like a gentleman! ~James Whitcomb Riley “The Old Hay-Mow Poem”
“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” ― Henry James
the swing set my dad made when I was little, now perched on our farm
Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. ~John Lubbock
It will not always be summer; build barns. ~Hesiod
tree house in the walnut tree
Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill. ~ Harper Lee in Too Kill a Mockingbird
‘Tis the last rose of summer Left blooming alone; All her lovely companions Are faded and gone. Thomas More
Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.
from “Let Evening Come” by Jane Kenyon
During our northwest winters, there is so little sunlight on gray cloudy days that I routinely turn on the two light bulbs in the big hay barn any time I need to go in to fetch hay bales for the horses. This is to help me avoid falling into the holes that inevitably develop in the hay stack between bales. The murky lighting tends to hide the dark shadows of the leg-swallowing pits among the bales, something that is particularly hazardous when carrying a 60 pound hay bale.
When I went to feed the horses at sunset tonight, I looked up at the lights blazing in the hay barn and went to the light switch to shut them off, but the switch was already off. Puzzled, I realized that lighting up the barn was a precise angle of the setting sun, not light bulbs at all. The last of the day’s sun rays were streaming through the barn slat openings, richocheting off the roof timbers onto the bales, casting an almost fiery glow onto the hay. The barn was ignited and ablaze without fire and smoke which are the last things one would even want in a hay barn. I could scramble among the bales without worry to get my chores accomplished.
It seems even in my life outside the barn I’ve been falling into more than my share of dark holes lately. Even when I know where they lie and how deep they are, some days I will manage to step right in anyway. Each time it knocks the breath out of me, makes me cry out, makes me want to quit trying to lift the heavy loads. It leaves me fearful to even venture out.
Then, amazingly, a light comes from the most unexpected of places, blazing a trail to help me see where to step, what to avoid, how to navigate the hazards to avoid collapsing on my face. I’m redirected, inspired anew, granted grace, gratefully calmed and comforted amid my fears. Even though the light fades, and the darkness descends again, it is only until tomorrow. Then it will reignite again.
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.
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.