The builder may have thought we were joking when we asked how soon we could put hay in the barn, but we weren’t kidding. Making hay is a bit of a throwback from days gone by, when humans lived at the mercy of whatever Mother Nature threw at them. If the extended weather forecast looked good and you cut your hay, it was pretty much guaranteed that sometime in the next 72 hours a freak storm would pop up out of nowhere. If that didn’t happen then the morning you started to bale the heat index would immediately rise to a sweltering inferno. In other words, seldom does the hay season come and go without a glitch; the machinery doesn’t break down, the skies don’t open up or your crew doesn’t land in the ER with heat stroke.
If you can get past the obstacles, there’s a simple beauty in making hay. The tidy look of a fresh-cut field, the satisfaction of a perfectly stacked buckboard, the glorious smell of new bales in the hayloft. Make no mistake, it’s damn hard work. I like to tell people that after the nostalgia of the first load wears off, the rest of hay season is nothing more than monotonous, back-breaking sweaty work. But this year there was cause for celebration that went beyond the thrill of having beaten Mother Nature once more. This year we put hay in the loft of a brand new barn, a barn we’ve talked, dreamed and fantasized about for fifteen years.
We’ve had two loads of hay sitting in our front yard for a week, just waiting for the roof to go on the barn. When the weather forecast went south we scrambled to find shelter for them. It’s hard to stuff a loaded truck and buckboard under an overhang or into a garage that’s meant to house cars. Every night we nervously watched the weather and every morning I tentatively asked the builder the same question: Is she ready for hay yet? Finally, mid day on Friday we got the OK, on a day when the forecast said late afternoon thunderstorms and we had a 5:30 wedding to attend.
That night the horrible heat wave we’ve been having broke, and on Saturday we woke to a beautiful, clear blue sky. We headed out early to borrow a hay elevator and by mid morning we were all hooked up and ready to unload our first load of hay. I got a bit teary as I watched the first bales chug up the conveyer belt; I haven’t stood in a hay loft I could call my own since I left home in my early 20′s. I grew up on a farm where making hay took on epic proportions, where dad used to tell his daughters that he didn’t much care who we were dating as long as we didn’t break up with them before we got the hay in the barn. Seriously, it was that big of a chore. But on the up side we had some great after-haying parties! My mother used to feed the entire work crew (lunch and dinner), then we’d head down back to the creek for a swim and a bonfire. Yes, by the third or fourth day it got a little old and even the lure of a great meal, a party and some extra pocket change didn’t entice some guys to keep coming back, but most of them hung in there for the duration. God bless ‘em!
As the morning wore on our new barn filled up with hay. We made another trip back to the farm and brought home enough hay to keep our horses fed through the winter. It’s good, never-been-rained-on hay that will stay clean and dry and won’t go dusty with mold from sitting on pallets. For the first time since 1989 I know I’ll have enough hay to feed my horses without having to go looking for a source in the middle of winter, having to borrow from friends to “tide us over” until we can find more hay. It’s a great feeling, probably quite similar to that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you know you can put food on the table for your kids.
This morning I’m sore in places I don’t even want to think about, but having a barn full of hay makes the stiffness a bit more tolerable. Come March the heat, dust, blisters and the seemingly endless repetition of bend, lift, throw will be long forgotten when I start thinking about the next haying season and the sweet scent of freshly baled hay.