Doing hay is an art – although I’m not sure if you “do” hay as much as you make hay. That is the expression isn’t it? Make hay.
I had the extreme pleasure of helping my father finish off the last of the hay crop this year and obviously it fell on Labour Day weekend.
It has been a couple of years since I had done a proper load of hay on the farm, but the memories are never far from my mind.
Growing up, our summer vacations were spent on the farm, primarily stacking square bales in the cavernous loft. We loathed it.
We had a dairy operation and summer months were for work, not for play – although we did get more than enough of that in too.
As soon as school ended, we were in the midst of first cut.
The set up was always the same. Two of us would be on the wagon, and the other two up in the haymow while my mother and father were out in the field.
The goal was to unload one wagon and get back out to the field in time for my dad to just finish loading the next one. That was easier said than done when the field in question was at the far corner of our more than 300-acre farm.
Speed was key, especially on the wagon. It was also sadistically fun to get the bales on the elevator so fast that you’d bury the two suckers in the mow. The goal was to get them mad enough to come screaming obscenities from the loft door to slow down.
As the calendar turned to September, it always brought about a certain excitement – mostly because the heavy lifting was done and the loft was full. But often, the final weekend of the summer also meant a final few cuts.
Maybe it was our imagination or maybe it was because the days were shorter and the crop wasn’t completely dry, but the bales always felt just a little heavier on those days.
Here I was, more than two decades later still doing what I swore with blood in my spit that I would never, ever do as an adult.
I had to laugh to myself as I donned the standard uniform, swim shorts underneath the oldest and rattiest jeans you can find – that’s it – and climbed onto the wagon.
As the baler twine shredded my “city-fied” hands, I methodically ripped out one bale after the other and swung it onto the elevator. The heat, the sweat, the scratches, and the overall misery of the situation beating down what enthusiasm I had mustered – I was only five minutes in. There were four more loads to go.
But the old rhythm returned and a calm came over me.
No longer was I concerned about any of the discomfort or annoyances, I was simply focused on the next task.
My dad always stressed that we be active participants in the farm. It was born out of necessity, but we thought it was a direct result of our parents’ cruelty.
Ultimately, it ingrained in us a sense of work ethic and a blueprint for tackling problems many farmers and rural communities follow.
You cannot look at the wagon as fully loaded, heavy, tangled and unmanageable. If you do, it will beat you down.
As we head towards autumn and a landscape fraught with political, environmental, economic and social issues that are handled like landmines, let us take responsibility and attack them diligently and methodically.
Much like the load of hay, we must get access to the problem first and then either weaken the foundation or deconstruct it from the top down one bale at a time.
There is no way out or around. There is only through.
And when we do unload our problems, we shouldn’t bury our brothers and sisters too quickly.