Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
~Jane Kenyon, “Let Evening Come“
Why, who makes much of miracles?
As to me, I know nothing else but miracles…
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me [all] is a continual miracle…
When I go to our 100+ year old hay barn to fetch a couple of bales for the horses, I stop to marvel at the continual miracle of this barn. It is breaking down along its roof crest, yes. It is sorely in need of another coat of paint, yes. It has leaks where the winter winds have blown shingles off so the rain and snow come straight indoors, yes.
Yet these old growth beams and rafters, recycled from a nearby dismantled saw mill over a century ago, continue to do their job of holding up the world encased within. This home of pigeons, swallows, bats, barn owls, mice, rats, raccoons, skunks and possum remains a steadfast sanctuary for the harvest of our hill. For decades it has remained steep and silent, serene and solace-filled.
Every cubic inch, the streams of light and the shadowy dark, inside and out, is wonder-full, even when it is empty in the late spring and especially when packed to the rafters, as it is now, with this summer’s hay crop. The miraculous is grown, cut, dried, raked, baled, hauled, stacked and piece by piece, stem by stem, as it sustains living creatures through three seasons of the year.
I have the privilege of entering here every day and witnessing the miracle year after year.
I know nothing else but miracles, despite my own sagging, my weakening foundation and some *occasional* inopportune leaking of my own.
I know where and to whom I belong.
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Jesus, sovereign over all, does not cry “Mine!”
Light and wind are running
over the headed grass
as though the hill had
melted and now flowed.
~Wendell Berry “June Wind”
It will soon be haying time, as soon as a stretch of clear days appear on the horizon. Today was to be cloudless but ended up drizzly and windy, not good hay cutting weather.
The headed grass is growing heavier, falling over, lodged before it can be cut, with the undulations of moist breezes flowing over the hill. It has matured too fast, rising up too lush, too overcome with itself so that it can no longer stand. It is melting, pulled back to the soil. We must work fast to save it.
The light and wind works its magic on our hill. The blades of the mower will come soon to lay it to the ground in green streams that flow up and down the slopes. It will lie comfortless in its stoneless cemetery rows, until tossed about by the tedder into random piles to dry, then raked back into a semblance of order in mounded lines flowing over the landscape.
It will be crushed and bound together for transport to the barn, no longer bending but bent, no longer flowing but flown, no longer growing but grown and salvaged.
It becomes fodder for the beasts of the farm during the cold nights when the wind beats at the doors. It melts in their mouths, as it was meant to.
John Clare (1793-1864).
Tis haytime & the red complexioned sun
Was scarcely up ere blackbirds had begun
Along the meadow hedges here & there
To sing loud songs to the sweet smelling air
Where breath of flowers & grass & happy cow
Fling oer ones senses streams of fragrance now
While in some pleasant nook the swain & maid
Lean oer their rakes & loiter in the shade
Or bend a minute oer the bridge & throw
Crumbs in their leisure to the fish below
—Hark at that happy shout—& song between
Tis pleasures birthday in her meadow scene
What joy seems half so rich from pleasure won
As the loud laugh of maidens in the sun.
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.
The light returns and so will I.
In the dead of winter
During the darkest blowing icy nights
The bales open like a picture book
Illustrating how life once was,
and will be again~
Rainy spring nights hay
Becomes soft bedding
For new foals’ sleep
To guarantee sunshine
In the barn
On the darkest of days:
A pass of the blade leaves behind
rough stems, a blunt cut field of
paths through naked slopes and
bristly contoured hollows.
Once swept and stored, the hay stays
baled for a future day, its deep roots yielding
newly tender growth, tempted forth
by warmth and summer rain.
A full grassy beard sprouts
lush again, to obscure the landscape
rise and fall, conceal each molehill,
pothole, ditch and burrow.
I trace the burgeoning stubble with gentle touch,
fingertips graze the rise of cheek, the swell of upper lip
and indent of dimpled chin with healed scar, the stalwart jaw,
the terrain oh so familiar it welcomes me back home.
By now the fields have survived
A first, and even second cutting
Mowed and tedded
Raked and baled, scalped clean then
Rained upon in spurts and spells.
The grass blades rise again, reluctant-
Certain of the cuts to come;
No longer brazen, reaching to the sky
With the blinding bright enthusiasm of May and June endless days,
But shorter, gentle growth of late summer golden sunsets.
The third cutting sparse and short as thinning hair
Tender baby soft forage, light in the hands and on the wagon
Precious cargo carried back to the barn;
Fragrant treasure for vesper manger meals
A special Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve gift.
Once again the fields are bare, aching for cover
Which comes as leaves rain and swirl in release,
Winds buffet, offering respite of deepening winter
Snowdrifts, blanketing in silent relief and rest
Until patiently stirred by melting soaking warmth
To rouse again, reaching toward the light.
The small farm outside the village of East Stanwood, Washington on which I spent my first four years had three milking guernsey cows and a large crippled paint horse. In addition to ten acres of woodlot, we had about 6 acres of pasture, some of which was used to grow our winter hay supply.
My father was a small town high school agriculture teacher, supervising FFA kids and working far more hours than he was paid for. He was determined to help make ends meet for his growing family by being as self-sufficient as possible on our few acres. Our own milk was pasteurized on our wood stove, we raised our own beef, pork and chicken/eggs, and grew and stored as much forage as possible. We had a large hay barn, but could not afford much more than the old tractor that my father kept patched together with gum and baling wire. We certainly didn’t have baling equipment so our hay had to be put up loose, usually cut by a sickle bar attached to the tractor.
For reasons known only to him, my father often preferred to cut our hay with his hand held scythe. Perhaps it was out of necessity, or more likely he enjoyed the rhythm of the physical work. I can still see and hear him slashing through the grass, laying it neatly in a pile as he moved through the field. In fact, I was so interested in watching him that I came up behind him one sunny day, wanting to follow his path in my own dreamy three year old way, and he reached back with the scythe handle to cut his next big swath, not aware I was behind him and the handle bumped right into my face, slicing my eyebrow open and laying me down neatly right along aside the nice pile of grass. I must have wailed hard and bled profusely as I remember him scooping me up, his face a mask of worry, and rushed me into the house, and then downtown to the kindly old lady doctor who butterflied my face back together. I still can find that spot in my eyebrow when I look closely–a testament to the dangers of being too curious and too quiet.
The work of putting up loose hay is significantly different than baled hay. It is much slower and deliberate, not nearly the frenetic activity of today’s hay crew. When the hay is ready to be brought in, it must be scooped by the pitchfork load onto the hay wagon, piled high as possible without much toppling off, and then slowly brought to the hay barn where the large hay fork would be let down on its pulley, opened and closed over the pile, hauled back up inside the hay mow to be released into a big pile. There it would be in a fragrant mound waiting to be forked down into the mangers every morning and night as the cows were milked. It never gets packed tight, it remains loose and fluffy and often not as musty as the baled hay can be. However, there is more loss in the harvesting process, it blows in the slightest breeze and has a life of its own while bales sit where you put them and stay there until retrieved. Predictable, efficient, easy to store and move but without give or flexibility.
Jumping into loose hay is a feeling of being enveloped and cushioned. The occasional broken bale I find in the loft softens in my hands as I scoop it up–what a delight. One of the joys of doing chores is breaking the twine on the bales and freeing the hay into flakes as the portions are distributed to each stall. Would I find carrying pitchforks of loose hay as gratifying? Perhaps, but harder work indeed and much more lost along the way.
Is each day lived in tightly bound bales or as free-spirit loose hay? I experience both, stretching against the cords that bind me at times, but needing the ties that keep me from blowing away at the slightest puff of wind. Life stacks us up, builds us and grows us, but too soon pulls us apart and we are dust again. We must thrive with our covenant “ties” –the twines that keep together our faith, our relationships, our children. But we can overdo, sometimes binding too tightly, and not unlike our children who must eventually be free, we must loosen our ties, let them breathe and avoid the “mustiness” that can develop over time if they never are opened up.
It is time to celebrate the hay stack and know that we belong, bound or loose, to the dust from which we arose.