Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Getting the Hay In (written May 20th)

It's that bright kind of sunny day where you squint even in the shade and the entire country-side looks dipped in light. The blue sky harbors lazy white clouds and the bushy green trees harbor warbling birds. They never give me any advance warning, but there's something in the air on a hay-day (maybe that fresh-cut hay smell) that let's me know haying is just a phone-call away.

This time we're shooting to get 150 bales to feed our livestock of two: one fat young painted Saddlebred, and one bony old Thoroughbred. Mostly, they're pasture-pals, friends I can go to whenever I need a listening ear. I can depend on them to stand quietly while I complain and never argue or tell me the situation is my own fault. They're just there, quietly crunching, swishing tails at the flies while the warmth of their hides permeates the air. I can lean back against that solid, living mass, and let all my problems slide away.

I can't haul hay, anymore. After years of gloving up and tossing 60 pound bales onto trucks--as quick and tough as any of the men--now, my allergies won't let me. I always did come away from a haying session pocked-marked with raised red welts on my arms, and a voice grown hoarse and (I thought) sexy from coughing. Really, it was hives from my allergic reaction to those lovely Northern Grasses. I can't haul it, but I can still drive and fortunately for me, I managed to birth a strong, healthy, wonderfully helpful young man who came with me to hay today.

We drove to the field on dry, dusty roads, past where they were laying another field down. That deep green blanket would fade in the sun and be ready to tedder tomorrow, ready to bale the next day. Farther on, we wove past cows, stomping lazily in a lean-to, up over a knoll to where the hay field stretched out. Long rows were piled neat and the baler was churning away, rumbling and plunking as square bales popped out the back. They had three lines baled already, about fifty ready to haul. But, this was my son's first go at driving a hay-laden truck; I wasn't willing to push it. We'd load thirty-five bales, forty tops.

I drove down the lanes, he ran along beside me, as graceful as a gazelle, despite the fifteen pounds of muscle he has recently packed on through his weight-training sessions—pounds he'd be thanking God he'd worked hard to earn by the end of today. He loped along bare-foot because he'd been wearing sandals when we'd gotten the call. He had gloves in his truck, so at least his hands were safe. His feet, it seemed, would have to fend for themselves. He was faster than I had ever been and moved in smooth motion. He caught each bale, lifted it as I chugged slowly up in my diesel F350. Then, in one easy movement I could never have mastered, he tossed them into the truck bed. In moments like these you realize you have been kidding yourself; I never could load hay like any man, that was a dream born from a wanna-be.

I find I'm still a wanna-be. Only the strong memory of struggling for each asthmatic breath keeps me locked in the cab with the air-conditioner blowing. It's hard to give up something you love so that you can stay alive and breathing. But, even without the exhausted, itching, back-rending, muscle defeating, exhilarating effort of actually loading the hay--I still love it.

He looks hot as he pulls off his T-shirt, climbs into the driver's side of my truck, pops in his ears buds, cranks his i-pod, and drives my away. He'll be back in an hour or two, after he's unloaded into the barn and I'll head back out to the field as a driver, a blessed break from the office-job where I'll be working late, waiting in comfort for him to deliver each load to home. We'll do this four times, and by the end of the night, he'll be worn to the bone, sweating and itching, and too tired to lift his fork to eat and I'll envy him for his youth, his strength, his health that all give him this ability to load the hay.

More than that, I'll be grateful. I'll remember this day forever as I know he will. He'll remember it as the time he loaded one hundred and sixty-two bales of hay from the truck to the barn all on his own. I'll remember it as the first time ever I didn't lift a single bale while getting the hay in.