Summer Haying | Lessons from the Hayfield
On haying days, Penny mixes thick milkshakes, and we drink them on the ride home, the four of us crammed into the cab of our old Chevy. We idle down the gravel road from the hayfield; the loaded wagon pushes us, and I ride the brakes. Oncoming traffic gives us a wide berth, and wisely so. Everyone waves in that two-fingers-off-the-steering-wheel way rural Vermonters wave, as if afraid to commit to even this brief, passing relationship. I can smell the warm hay, the hot brakes, and the chopped-up sprigs of mint that Penny puts into the sweet slurry of cream, egg, and maple syrup. I can smell the sweat that has risen, flowed, and is now drying on my skin. It’s not sour, or at least not yet. My teeth hurt from the cold, and I know that my day is nowhere near over. There’s this wagon to unload, and yet another to fill. There will be more tomorrow.
But for the seven or eight minutes it takes to get home, I’m afforded the simple luxury of the satisfaction only hard labor can provide, and I think ahead to the coming winter, when I’ll pull each of these bales out of our barn, one by one, extracts of summer in an iced-over world. And I’ll remember how it happens every year that I improbably recognize a bale or two–maybe a runt from an early pass, when we were still fiddling with the baler settings, or maybe one from the field’s edge, with an identifying stick woven in, shed from the old maples that line the northern fringe, overseers of more hay and toil than I can imagine. And I’ll stand in our snow-packed barnyard for a minute, holding the bale, wrenched back to the moment when I hauled it off the chute and passed it back to Penny or one of the boys as Martha guided the tractor down the long windrow, the smell of grease and diesel and drying hay riding softly on the summer air. It’s not a moment frozen in time, but rather just the opposite: a moment so fluid it can travel across weeks and even months to be with me at six o’clock on a January morning, to a point roughly equidistant from the haying season before and the haying season to come.
Then I walk up the short hill to the paddock, release the compressed hay from the confines of its twine, throw it over the fence, and leave the cows to their breakfast.