After a month of gloomy weather and gloomy farmers the skies are blue and the sun is hot. When I took my walk this morning, I could hear it. Above the warble of red wings and the buzz of dragon flies, there was a faint thunking. A rumble of wheels, a squeaking of grease-hungry gears. And I’m sure I heard the farmers laughing as they bumped around their meadows on big tractors cutting swathes through the grass, raking it into thatchy ribbons and gathering it into bales. Sweaty smiles and dusty grins are back. It’s hay time in Highland.
My very first summer in the mountains, a young farmer agreed to let me ride on his hay wagon and help with the harvest. I should have noticed his devilish grin as he advised me to wear shorts and a sleeveless top for the hot work. I showed up to his fields dressed in my shortest shorts and a white tank top. I did at least have sense enough to wear tennis shoes instead of flip flops. When I got to the field, he directed me to a long wagon and handed me a dangerous looking hook. “Use this to pull the bales out,” he said mysteriously before jumping up on the tractor. “Saul will show you how.” The wagon lurched forward and I almost fell on top of my hook as my friend put the baler in gear. Ka- chunk, ka- thunk, ka -chunk, ka -thunk….square bales started crowding their way up the chute. Saul showed me how to hook one and drag it over the edge and then grab a string with my other hand before tossing the fifty pound bale back to him. He stacked the bales, five to a layer, six bales high as we circled the field.Each bale that I pulled out rubbed against my bare arms and bare legs. Within an hour I was polka dotted with hay pricks. Sweat dribbled down my chest into the low cut top I had chosen and every itchy bit of grass that came loose from the bales stuck in a place I couldn’t gracefully reach. We rode around that field for five hours, filling wagon after wagon. Every once in a while my friend looked back at me and grinned. “Having a good time?” he shouted over the roar of the tractor. I was exhausted, wringing wet, itchy all over, and my hands were raw. To top it off, my bra and tennis shoes were both overflowing with hay chaff. “Just dandy!” I called back. So, we kept on circling what had to be the largest hay field in Highland County. Finally, the last bale was stacked.
That night, at his mother’s dinner table which was piled high with good food, I fell asleep in my plate.
When Joe and I got married, I started riding the wagons with him. His dad, who’d had a stroke, could still drive a tractor, so Joe and I stacked hay. In my long pants, high-necked shirt and gloves, I grew to love hay season. I learned to toss bales without rubbing them against my arms and to stack bales above my head. I loved watching the swallows dip and dive catching the rising insects and listening to the rhythmic, thumping music of the baler.Now, like most farmers in the county, we round-bale most of our hay. It’s faster and requires less labor, but we still square-bale enough to feed to our sheep, and second cutting is always square-baled. Although our two grown boys and my husband can handle most of it now every once in a while I get a yen to ride the wagons once again. So, I put on my long pants and gloves and cross the fields. Joe pulls me up and we bounce around the field stacking, laughing and sweating. It's hay time in Highland and we are grinning dusty grins once again.