I’ve always had tough feet. It is a distinction garnered from my childhood days of running barefoot around our farm—turning tour jetes through the hard stubble left after the grass had been cut and baled during haying season.
While I mainly wear shoes now, I still have those callouses. Partly from all those years of ballet lessons and feet-warping toe shoes, but also from the summers spent bunching and tossing and stacking hay bales with my family and neighbors.
That was back when all bales were square and tied with bailing twine and not the large, round bales mainly seen today.
Haying season is in full swing in our communities this month as farmers begin gathering hay for storage—in short, getting ready for winter. My neighbor came last week to mow and rake and bale the grass in the old farm fields around my house. He even baled up the outskirts of our lawn (the tall grass and wildflowers that buffer our house and lawn from Route 97).
Farmers work fast until a machine (inevitably) breaks down, or the sky starts to thunder and lightning. Haying is often a race against the ruining rain that leaches nutritional value and makes bales heavy. Good quality hay is green and light and fragrant, full of clover and timothy and birdsfoot trefoil.
Occasionally I still see old sickle bar mowers in use, but more often I see them stranded in old fields like so many toothed-backed dinosaurs—remnants of time past. These were the kinds of mowers my father had that have given way to the disk mowers, haybines and mower conditioners of today.
I remember the fun we had jumping windrows, stacking bales, and making tunnels and hay houses. I loved riding on top of the loads of hay. We looked for birds’ nests and snakes (sometimes cut and bound in the bales).Sometimes one of the machines would hit a bee hive in the grass.
I remember running to get a wrench from a tool box when one of the machines broke down. There were a lot of machinery breakdowns. The PTO (aka the power take off) on the Ford tractor broke. The bailer’s twine knotting thing-a-ma-jig broke. The hay elevator broke. After we got the kicker bailer (which propelled the bales into a wagon hauled behind the bailer), the kids weren’t needed to “bunch” bales. But by that time I was old enough to drive the truck in the field. Even so, sometimes the bales overshot the wagon when it was driven across the uneven fields.
At the end of the day we went swimming. The cool water was soothing to our sunburned arms and scratched and itchy legs.
Needless to say, times have changed. When I work outside I wear shoes and long pants. My kids don’t have haying experience outside of watching the tractor pull the mower around our old fields. They watch the tractor as it spears up the round bales and lines them up at the border of the field. Then they play on the white, plastic covered length of hay bales waiting for winter.