BOSTON — Could you smell it?" Charlie asked me after we'd finished baling. Back home from the field, we were offloading our wagons, and the strong, summery smell of well-cured hay was all too obvious to remark upon, much less question. He'd meant the topsoil. It was our last rendezvous with this particular pasture-turned-hayfield. The former owner, having reduced his beef herd, had sold 15 or 20 acres to developers a few years ago. They, in turn, had invited us to mow and bale the grass until their plotted homesites sold.
This happened all too quickly. We had one full season's harvest. But two new homes had been nearly completed by the start of this hay season, and the bulldozer returned to excavate the foundation for a third just after Charlie cut the remaining acres. The machine began by shaving off and setting aside the topsoil, the poignant scent of which, to Charlie's nose and mine, defined this particular cutting.
Compelled to keep on schedule, the driver apologetically drove over and dug under part of our sun-cured harvest. As I raked around the ever-expanding pit, we exchanged brief greetings, but we were both primarily focused on our opposing tasks. With a small dairy farm on the fringe of a rapidly expanding urban area, we need as much hay as possible from an ever-shrinking resource. He needed to dig that cellar to dimension on someone else's schedule. We understood each other's predicament, and he'd often pause as I swung around his corners, letting me rake to the very edges of his domain.
It took three days to bale this curiously configured field-in-transition. Workers laid concrete drives where, last year, we'd raked windrows. But they dropped their tools and ran to move their vehicles from the bordering grass, making as much room as possible for us to maneuver. We baled as they mortared, installed insulation, and put up drywall in the new homes. We'll surely find a few reminders of this juxtapositioning as we feed our dairy herd this winter. The flotsam and jetsam of construction, and bits of fast-food packaging from lunch breaks will pop out with the smells of summer as we open a few of those bales.
The building crews were working as hard as we were, and we were all equally hot and sweaty in the midsummer heat. But the scales of progress tipped toward them and their work. We'll not return there again.
Just as we were leaving with hay-laden wagons, the fellow in the bulldozer called to us.
"Do you want my hay?" he asked. He told us that he had several acres of his own he wouldn't mind being mowed. We said we'd come by, and yes, we'd very much appreciate a new hayfield to help replace this one.
I scooped up a palmful of the excavated topsoil - the stuff that folks had settled here for in the first place. I'll keep this clump of moist, fertile earth as a reminder of loss, change, and renewal. These things don't always balance out, but sometimes something, or someone, unexpectedly tips the scales back your way.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society