Years ago, my husband's father was a custom hay-baler. Every summer he cut, tedded, raked and baled over 20,000 square bales and stacked them in airy barns all over the county. My Own Farmer grew up riding on the hay wagons with friends and loves to point out the various places he bumped across the acres tossing or stacking. When we were first married we continued the tradition, and I loved riding the wagon with him as it lurched over the furrowed ground. Even on the hottest days, there was a cool breeze generated by the slow forward motion and with two of us working, the pace of stacking was manageable, leaving breath for talking and flirting.
Swallows love hay weather, as well. Every pass of the tractor stirs up heat-struck insects, creating an aerial feast for the acrobatic birds. With the steady ka-chunk, chunk of the baling arm pushing hay into tight squares, and the wide arcs and swirls of the hungry birds, I often felt that I was inside a symphony. The music was the tractor, the notes were the birds.
Baling also provided work and a summer income for the county boys. Stand on the steps of any general store in the evening and you would see them converging for a cold bottle of pop and a pack of nabs. The sweat-grimed boys would sit in the cool evening air trading stories of wagons tipping when they rolled into groundhog holes, dusty hay lofts that were often hotter than one hundred degrees, and how many bales they had put up in a day. Baling gave boys bragging rights.
It’s different now. Round balers changed our culture. Hay baling is no longer a social event because one man can mow, ted, rake and bale his own fields with minimal help. Even the hay bales can be stacked on wagons and moved to the barns without the touch of a single human hand.
I am often enlisted to help with the hay, but now I am relegated to driving a tractor and raking windrows. I do not like machinery and I drive scared. I have good reason for my fears. I have managed to tangle a hay rake into a fence which took two men and some wire pliers to undo. Twice, I have made turns so tight that the rake tongue cut too close to the tractor and caught on the wheel, riding it up until it was in danger of knocking me out of my seat. That took two men and another tractor to fix. I have overlooked groundhog holes and dropped into them so hard that the fillings in my teeth jangled for a week. I fear losing a wheel every time. I am stupid about the clutch, using it instead of the brakes when headed downhill.
I have female friends who are not machinery-impaired. They love talking about the endless circling and the things they notice as they go around. One friend told me the other day that she saw five deer, two eagles, a fox and a grouse in just one day. I wouldn’t know. I am always so focused on the clattering rake riding behind me that I never look around. Just yesterday, I stole a quick glance at the woods beyond the fence and was startled out of my reverie by the sound of the rake scraping a fence post. Rakes are like that. Let them out of your sight for a minute and they wander into trouble.
My Own Farmer once told me that riding a tractor was as good as taking a vacation. He finds peace in the steady pace of the work. I am happy for him. Today, he is out in the front field baling while Scott rakes. I hope they are enjoying it. I know I am.