In my rush to get from there to here I missed some things. The solitary song of the chickadee; the play of winter light on kitchen walls; the smell of fresh-raked leaves; the summer days of childhood, stretched slow from dawn to dusk, no need to know the date or time, only the sound of a silver swung bell to call me in for supper.
Could I re-learn to navigate by phases of the moon, the ebb and flow of tides, the rhodies budding out today before the fall’s first snow? Could I re-learn to take my waking slow? ~Ted McMahon, M.D. “Slow Season”
I took an unscheduled landing while wheelbarrowing hay to our horses in the field yesterday morning.
In my rush to get from there to hereI missed some things.
I stumbled on uneven ground and fell hard, badly injuring my elbow. Finishing chores afterward was a challenge and a necessity, wrapping my broken wing up tight in my jacket, doing what was needed before my husband came home to take me to the ER where good people who know me took great care of me.
Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.
Even though no bones were broken, it was dislocated, so my elbow (and I) needed to be put back together. The miracle of “conscious sedation” IV medication let my body “think” I was awake – I was surrounded by a swirling round of voices telling me to take deep breaths and constantly reassuring me–while the ER doctor and nurse put traction on my arm and shoulder, then twisting and turning my elbow back into proper position with a “clunk”. I was blissfully unaware of the tugging and torque, paying attention only to the swirling sounds in my head, then waking slow to find my arm splinted and wrapped from mid-humerus to fingers — all fixed but now typing is also slow.
This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I’m walking more carefully now, paying attention to exactly where my feet land and what is around me.
The ground is near yet still can be a hard and abrupt landing;
I celebrate the good clinicians who put broken people back together again.
The grass so little has to do,— A sphere of simple green, With only butterflies to brood, And bees to entertain, And stir all day to pretty tunes The breezes fetch along, And hold the sunshine in its lap And bow to everything; And thread the dews all night, like pearls, And make itself so fine,— A duchess were too common For such a noticing. And even when it dies, to pass In odors so divine, As lowly spices gone to sleep, Or amulets of pine. And then to dwell in sovereign barns, And dream the days away,— The grass so little has to do, I wish I were a hay! ~Emily Dickinson
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:
soothing an upset cow during a difficult milking,
uncovering a litter of kittens high in a hay loft,
shouting orders to a steady workhorse,
singing a soft hymn while cleaning stalls,
startling out loud as a barn owl or bat flies low overhead.
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.
The weather is cooperating so the grass was cut two days ago. Today it will be tossed about on the field to dry in a process called “tedding”, then tomorrow raked into windrows and baled 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. 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.
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.
And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a caretaker.” So God made a farmer.
God said, “I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at ameeting of the school board.” So God made a farmer.
“I need somebody with arms strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild. Somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to wait lunch until his wife’s done feeding visiting ladies and tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon — and mean it.” So God made a farmer.
God said, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, ‘Maybe next year.’ I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from a persimmon sprout, shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, who can make harness out of haywire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. And who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain’n from ‘tractor back,’ put in another seventy-two hours.” So God made a farmer.
God had to have somebody willing to ride the ruts at double speed to get the hay in ahead of the rain clouds and yet stop in mid-field and race to help when he sees the first smoke from a neighbor’s place. So God made a farmer.
God said, “I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark. It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week’s work with a five-mile drive to church.
“Somebody who’d bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life ‘doing what dad does.'” So God made a farmer. ~Paul Harvey (1978)
Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery. ~Wendell Berry
Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. ~Wendell Berry from Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food
The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” ~Masanobu Fukuoka
It is hard for my husband and I to ignore our genetic destiny to struggle as stewards of the land through the challenges of economics and weather. Our blood runs with DNA of dairy farmers, wheat and lentil growers, loggers, cattle ranchers, work horse teamsters, and flower and vegetable gardeners. A farm eventually called us from the city and our professional lives to come back home and care for a piece of ground and its animals. So we heeded and here we remain, some 32 years later, children raised and gone.
Perhaps the call of the farmer genes will bring one of them back to the land. Because farmers are hand-picked for the job by God Himself.
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese. ~Jane Kenyon from “Three Songs at the End of Summer”
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.
They put up hay loose there, the old way, forking it into the loft from the wagon rack while the sweaty horses snorted and switched off flies and the littlest kids were commanded to trample it flat in between loads until the entire bay was alight with its radiant sun-dried manna…. It was paradise up there with dusty sun motes you could write your name in as they skirled and drifted down. There were ropes we swung on and dropped from and shinnied up and the smell of the place was heaven, hurling me back to some unknown plateau, tears standing up in my eyes and an ancient hunger in my throat, a hunger…. ~Maxine Kumin from “Hay”
My parents knew that ancient hunger, both born on farms with teams of horses that brought in hay the old way while the children tramped and stamped the loose piles firm.
I’ve known that ancient hunger, having grown up on a farm that brought in to the barn loose hay the old way by tractor and wagon, having danced in the dusty sun motes on the top of the hay on a bright afternoon, the light cut in stripes over the sweet smelling grass.
We’ve made sure our three children knew that ancient hunger, born to a farm that brought in hay bales stacked to the rafters through community effort, those same dusty sun motes swirling about their heads as they learned their jobs, from bale rolling to lifting to tossing and stacking.
And now the next generation of neighborhood children arrive with shouts on haying days to clamor up and down the bale mountains, answering to the same hunger, blowing the same dusty snot and thrilling to the adventure of tractors, wagons and trucks, celebrating the gathering in of sun-dried manna together.
Surely this is what heaven will be like: we are all together, dancing in the light of the sun motes, our hunger filled to the brim by manna provided from above.
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. ~John Clare “Hay Making”
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