To the Lake at Last
This has been a strange summer, cold and rainy. I have a particular fleece jacket that I wear around the house in the winter and I’ve been wearing that through this summer as well. It’s usually buried in the closet by now, waiting for the summer heat to chill. But the last couple of days, summer seems to have arrived. It’s hot and sticky and Jay, our neighbor farmer, has been baling up hay that should have been cut in early July. Even for those of us who only observe the ritual, it’s frustrating to see the hay standing in the field, knocked over in rain and wind storms, all rough around the edges. We wait, as if for an overdue baby.
There are probably a dozen or more fields on this ridge and Jay hays them all, sometimes selling the bales right off the field, sometimes hauling them away in red wagons that, once filled with hay, tower above the road and teeter down the hill like something from a Charlie Chaplin movie. Usually by now all the fields have been cut and some of them are up for a second cutting but it is mid-August and only half of them have been cut. Jay has a pattern that he seems to follow, in cutting this field or that but this year, whatever pattern there might have been was all blown to bits. My lower field is usually the wettest field and he usually takes that one last and that will probably follow suit this year but all the others, he’s doing one at a time. We need three good sunny dry days in a row to make hay and we’ve hardly had one or two in a row this whole summer. Add to that the muddy fields and he must have been feeling very grim this summer, I can only guess.
On Friday I went down to New Jersey to take care of some business, down and back in the same day which meant a very late arrival home. It was hot and sticky down there, which you might expect in New Jersey but it followed me home. It was past midnight when I finally turned off the highway and made my way up onto my hill. Even before I got to the field, I could smell, in the dark stillness, the hay had been cut. The fragrance of fresh cut meadow came in through my open windows and filled the car. It is something I can’t express, since I have no stake in the haying process, only the satisfaction of having my fields tended properly, of having the grass down. But it thrilled me, just knowing the process had started, as if the natural order had been restored.
So the hay was down and all day today, I could hear the tractor moving up and down the field, working up the hay. Almost all year long, the fields are like a still life, silent and stoic. But at haying time, the scene comes alive, a production filled with sound and action. Suddenly, it’s like a factory up here, tractors crisscrossing the field, trucks driving past the house, towing horse trailers to the field — the trailers will carry hay home to their barns. It’s a busy time and I welcome it, a full-fledged pageant with a percussion all its own. I know the sounds of the mower, and I know the sounds of the tedder, much more faint. After the lush dried grass is all piled into mows, Jay comes up with the baler, lines it up and starts down the windrows. At a distance, the baler has a sound like a heartbeat and close up, like a big animal, munching. As it moves across the big field, the two rhythms switch back and forth, up close and fade, up close and fade. While I was in New Jersey, I heard the locusts, a buzz that swells and fades, which to me is the simple sound of heat. We have no locusts buzzing up here but the chewing of the baler has something of the same effect. Hear it and feel hot.
So today I was sitting here at my desk, listening to all of this, feeling the heat. I can stay cool in my work room, curtains drawn to keep the sun out, windows up, hoping for a breeze, but sometime around 3, the heat descends, an almost unbearable rise in temperature. It seems to come on all at once. That’s when I have to go up to the lake. I haven’t felt like swimming all summer but I did then, an appetite that cannot be ignored. So, for the first time this year, I got out suit and towel and headed to the lake. I took my puppy, Harriet. She has never been swimming before. Harriet stood beside the water like a kitten, putting her paw out at the water, batting it and giving some consideration to jumping in. But she didn’t. I coaxed her, called her and dropped a ball under her nose. She wasn’t convinced. Finally I carried her into the cool depths and she thrashed back to shore, doing the basic doggie paddle, no one had to teach her. Still, she didn’t seem to love it. Not yet. Perhaps a few more of these dog days and she’ll figure out that it’s the only way to go on days like this.