in the early morning. ~Billy Collins from “Morning”
He had driven half the night From far down San Joaquin Through Mariposa, up the Dangerous Mountain roads, And pulled in at eight a.m. With his big truckload of hay behind the barn. With winch and ropes and hooks We stacked the bales up clean To splintery redwood rafters High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa Whirling through shingle-cracks of light, Itch of haydust in the sweaty shirt and shoes. At lunchtime under Black oak Out in the hot corral, —The old mare nosing lunchpails, Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds— “I’m sixty-eight” he said, “I first bucked hay when I was seventeen. I thought, that day I started, I sure would hate to do this all my life. And dammit, that’s just what I’ve gone and done.” ~Gary Snyder – “Hay for the Horses” from Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems
Sure enough, I’ve gone and done it — spent over 50 years of my life taking care of horses. I’m hoping for at least a decade more if this little herd of mostly retired Haflingers continues to bless me with their good health and mine.
No one said I had to do this and plenty of people saw it as folly, including a few folks who continue to aid and abet my horse ownership.
When I was young and agile and full of energy, I didn’t really project ahead fifty years to see that picking up hay bales, moving manure piles and being stepped on by a 1000 pound animal is a bigger deal than it once was.
But fifty years hasn’t changed anything else: the smell of a muzzle, the feel of a powerful muscle under my hand, my reflection in their eyes.
When I lived in a city apartment so many years ago, I knew I sure would love to wake up every morning to take care of horses the rest of my life. And you know what?
Light wakes us – there’s the sun climbing the mountains’ rim, spilling across the valley, finding our faces. It is July, between the hay and harvest, a time at arm’s length from all other time…
It is the time to set aside all vigil, good or ill, to loosen the fixed gaze of our attention as dandelions let seedlings to the wind. Wake with the light. Get up and go about the day and watch its surfaces that brighten with the sun. ~Kerry Hardie from “Sleep in Summer”
Saying good-bye to July
is admitting summer is almost half-baked
and so are we
not nearly done enough.
The rush to autumn is breathless
and we want to hold on tight
to our longish days
and our sweaty nights
for just a little while longer,
Please, oh please
grant us light
just a little while longer.
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 is
baled for a future day, and grass’ deep roots
yield 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 this burgeoning stubble with gentle touch,
fingertips graze the rise of cheek, the curve of upper lip
and indent of dimpled chin with long-healed scar, the stalwart jaw,
a terrain oh so familiar that it welcomes me back home.
Light and wind are running over the headed grass as though the hill had melted and now flowed. ~Wendell Berry “June Wind”
It is haying time now, as soon as another stretch of clear days appears on the horizon. We missed a haying window last week, and now are staring at a week and a half of uncertain weather with forecast rain and clouds interspersed among sunny warmer days.
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 and undulating like a lava flow, pulled back into the soil.
We must move fast to save it.
Light and wind work 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.
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, just as we are meant to melt and flow ourselves, rescued by light and wind and spirit.
26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29
This parable “supplies an admirable antidote to overcarefulness and despondency. Our principle work is to sow the seed. That done, we may wait with faith and patience for the result.”
~J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) Bishop of Liverpool
In Galatians, Paul refers to God sending forth His Son “in the fullness of time.” It is one of my favorite expressions to remind myself that God’s timing is not linear so much as it is spherical – we find ourselves in the midst of His plans, surrounded by time rather than journeying from point A to point B.
The sowing of the seed,
its hidden growth underground,
its taking root and sprouting,
its dependency on the soil and water and sun to rise above the earth,
its development and maturation and fruition,
its harvest and completion
to feed and seed yet again.
It is a circle, not a line.
Such fullness we cannot understand when we are in the midst of it; such assurance we can feel surround us as we wait patiently for the harvest.
May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.
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.