When I was a child I dreamed of the day I’d be strong enough to go baling like my brother Willie. Alas, I was Paul Puny. I was older and stronger when I moved to Canada from the States and the “small” square bales were relatively light grass hay, unlike Willie’s 80 pound alfalfa bales. I loved the feeling of pulling bales off the chute onto a wagon and building a load that would hold together well.
As time went on, Gary Vermeer invented the larger, round bale that needed no human lifting, just a tractor with a loader. It was just in time for me, as I was getting too old to chuck bales for any length of time. Next came those large, 1,000-pound square bales which are handled by machinery. Baling hay today in an air-conditioned tractor or loader and carrying it on a truck may not be as physically exhausting as haymaking used to be, but 18 hour days are still the norm for many farmers. Tiring. Exhausting. And rewarding.
Building a farm library
Now summer – and haymaking – is behind us. If you, or a haymaker you admire, want a book that chronicles what you did this summer with grace, style, clinically-accurate observation and – best of all – appreciation, then look for Making Hay by Verlyn Klinkenborg.
Klinkenborg describes hay-making as a communal, co-operative, sometimes disappointing, thoroughly admirable, exhausting process of “putting by” winter food for your animals, whether it looks like making round bales in Iowa or massive haystacks of loose hay using buckrakes and “beaverslides” in Montana.
Whether working by hand or by machine, long days and unfavourable weather can make us farmers feel a bit enslaved by hay-making. So why do it? Why work endless hours drying and processing grass when the ultimate profit often is so small, either as a saleable product or food for the farm’s animals? I found an answer in The Sword in the Stone, a retelling of the King Arthur legends by T.H. White: “The truth is that nowadays the farm labourer is ready to accept so little money because he does not have to throw his soul in with the bargain, as he would in a town.”
All hail to the haymakers, the independent men, women and children who sweat and ache and ultimately, receive the good reward for their labour. For what is better than a man eat, drink and find enjoyment in his labour? The wise Preacher of Ecclesiastes probably never bucked a bale, but he knew a thing or two about dignity, reward and satisfaction.
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