Actually, it was for only two hours, but it felt like a whole day’s worth of work. Perhaps I should explain.
Two days ago, a phone call from a farmer friend advised me that their field of hay had already been cut, dried in the sun and was now ready for baling. This was my sudden “open door,” a long anticipated opportunity to be a farmer for a day. If I hurried, I could help out with loading those many bales onto their hay wagon, drawing them into the barn, then unloading and packing them in neat rows to be stored as winter feed for the horses.
I had last lifted a forty pound bale of hay thirty five years ago. My family was living in Peterborough in those days and Percy was our congenial egg man, faithfully delivering his farm fresh dozen to us weekly. Over the years, we became friends. An older gentleman with one son living at home, Percy shyly but gratefully accepted my offer to help him bring in the hay crop. A temporary hired hand would lighten the workload for father and son.
A note of explanation for town readers: hay is basically a field of long grass which is cut by machine in late June or early July. The farmer then uses his tractor-pulled rake to align the fallen hay into long straight rows, then waiting anxiously over a day or two for the crop to dry. (Storing wet hay in a barn can lead to unwelcome mold inside the bales or even a fire, should the rotting process create enough heat for spontaneous combustion.)
This cause for anxiety is weather related; obviously, if rain arrives and persists over the following days, cut hay cannot be baled and the quality of the harvest rapidly deteriorates lying on the damp ground. Make hay while the sun shines! Once the hay is dried-ready, it is essential to quickly proceed to the baling and storing steps. This was the moment when my friend Percy and his son would use my help to speed up that process. Every early summer, I would take an unpaid break from counseling complex family dysfunction, clear my head of its problem-solving focus, and happily become a carefree farmer for a day-or sometimes two.
Except that was a very long thirty five years ago. Now, I had a proverbial golden opportunity to relive those happy hours. But, during this new day, it would not take me long to do the math; I was now thirty five years older.
Once that phone invitation arrived two days ago, I first had to remember what a farmer should be wearing for the task ahead: gardening gloves and a long-sleeved, old work shirt to prevent my arms from being scratched. Similarly, sturdy jeans or overalls over my legs would be required for the same purpose. Lacking both, I opted for a sweat shirt and track pants. In the 32 C degree weather, I would quickly discover why that article of clothing is called a “sweat shirt.”
Within a mere half hour of their heads-up phone call, I was appropriately garbed and making a beeline for the farm. In fact, it was actually on the “B lIne.” Turning into their farm lane, I noticed a hay wagon already being loaded in their field. In my eagerness to join the action, I hastily stopped my car right in the dusty lane, turned off the engine and started to clamber over a bordering fence. From his wagon, my farmer friend greeted me with what I interpreted as animated hand gestures of welcome. A second later, I revised and decoded his body language to mean— Stop right where you are!
Where I was–was straddling a wire fence, one long leg firmly planted on each side. Between those legs, I noticed that one wire may have been connected to electricity, a common measure for keeping cattle from straying. Putting it mildly, if I lowered myself one inch, my groin area and parts therein could be at great risk. My friend then shouted a reassurance that my body was in no danger but my car needed to be moved as another tractor would imminently be traversing that same narrow lane.
After that uncertain initiation, my adventure proceeded just as I had dreamed and anticipated. I was assigned duties on the wagon, assisting the farmer and his son In stacking those weighty bales. His wife drove the tractor which pulled the baling machine. This contraption moved slowly along each row of loose hay, swallowing it into one end, somehow internally bunching it into rectangular shaped bales, tying two strings around each one and then, almost like giving birth, pushing it out the other end onto the wagon.
Within a few moments of my dream becoming true, I then realized that I was in fact thirty five years older than during those far off days of helping Percy. Yet, I did survive to tell the tale, which will be further told next week. Time now to apply more soothing liniment to my back.