HAYMAKING brings on a picnic mood in my family. If we had to cut many acres of hay all summer long, I'm sure our enthusiasm would wane. But we only maintain eight acres, just enough to offer a change from our dairy/fruit-farming schedule.
Before we cut hay, my husband pauses daily on our hill covered with alfalfa. He eyes its height and how near the plants are to flowering. His expression says, "Not quite yet, but sometime this week," and he begins to pester me for the long-range weather forecasts. I watch my barometer and endure listening to updates on our weather radio.
Bringing in a crop always highlights the farmer's endless contest between the climate and harvesting. During my tenure on the farm, I have often handed tools to my husband while he fiddled with an uncooperative, ancient baler. At times, thunder rumbled out on Lake Michigan, and we raced to bring in our crop before the storm struck shore.
Only when the hay rests in our barn can we sigh and give thanks.
At last my husband decides to cut. He hitches up the haybine, and our eldest lad starts mowing. Neat rows of alfalfa trail behind the tractor and wilt under a cloudless sky while a meadowlark sings at the field's edge.
The air is rich with chlorophyll and humus, and all manner of insects travel across the felled stalks.
For the next couple of days we watch the horizon, notice the heaviness of the dew, and pick up handfuls of the alfalfa to test its dryness.
Cutting and raking hay are solo jobs, but baling has often been a community affair. When my sons were small, our friends Jane and Larry helped load the wagons in exchange for winter food for their horses and goats. I drove the tractor while my sons raced from bale to bale, waiting for the moment when Larry would lift them to the top of the load and we would all ride to the barn.
By evening's end, I would hold a sleeping Carlos while I maneuvered the last load about the field. Despite the heat and dust, the lads relished the late nights and the fun of working together with friends.
These days, my sons carry a bale in each hand and think about the thermos of ice water waiting in the shade of the hedgerow.
A newer baler breaks down less often, and the bales slide down a chute onto the wagon, so fewer people are needed for stacking and loading. And yet at mealtimes I listen to my husband and sons discuss how this farm now needs a hay basket to speed up the process. My help is still welcomed, but the three males in their straw hats now can manage the haying operation without me.
Except for the picnic supper. For we still maintain that ritual of unpacking casseroles from newspapers, spreading out plates and forks, cups and spoons, and dining with bales for benches.
Swallows swoop across the field after insects, and we remember all those other evenings when we watched the sunset as we gathered in the last of the bales. Each cutting of hay marks the dwindling of summer and the passing of the years. While sharing these labors, my sons' small hands have grown strong, and together we have reaped a harvest of memories.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society