Could an old man really replay a long ago wrestling match with a bale of hay? It had been 35 years since I last ventured out of town and into rural life as a “farmer for a day,“ helping my country friend, Percy, haul in his crop of hay. In my last column (July 7), I shared that adventure with readers.
Earlier this month, I once again found myself face to face with a bale of hay. To clarify, we are not taking about those hugely round objects randomly scattered across a field, and which closely resemble a giant Muffet breakfast cereal. My farmer friends were hauling in much smaller rectangular-shaped bales, these ones weighing only about 35 pounds. (It could have been much worse for me; some bales can weigh in at 60 pounds.)
As the tractor-pulled baler systematically moved along each row of cut and dried tall grass, the farmer, his son and their guest “farmer for a day” stood on the swaying hay wagon behind the machine and began grabbing bales as they popped up. I soon found my sea legs, managing to avoid embarrassing myself by tumbling off. Once the 130 bales were loaded and stacked seven rows high, we slowly headed for the barn while decades-old memories resurfaced:
–as a young boy, drawing in crops of sweet-smelling loose hay with my beloved grandfather and his sturdy team of patient Clydesdale horses.
–as a teen ager working for a farmer and gratefully catching a brief respite on top of each bouncing wagon load while it made its way to the barn.
–a few years later with the same farmer but now proudly graduated to driving the tractor and heavily-laden wagon, and then watching in horror as half a load of my bales spilled right across the intersection of Jane Street and Number Seven Highway in North York.
Then we were in the barn and ready to unload. The farmer’s son systematically threw each bale on to the elevator (which functions more like an escalator) to push them high into the hay loft. As each bale tumbled off the elevator about ten seconds apart, the farmers—husband and wife—and yours truly, waited underneath to quickly seize and stack the falling objects in turn before the next one landed on our heads. Between the omnipresent floating, dusty chaff and oppressive heat under that tin roof, I managed to keep pace but breathed a silent prayer when the wagon was finally empty.
When the crew chief decided not to unload a second wagon that late afternoon, I feigned mild disappointment even as I subtly but anxiously checked my racing pulse. But the best part of the day lay ahead.
My farm friends invited me to join them around a table set up on an outdoor deck. Replying to their kind offer of a cold drink, I knew nothing else would make my adventure as complete as sipping on Bruce County water, fresh from the family’s deep well.
As we lingered and talked while the sun slipped beyond the rolling green hills, I remembered why farm life has always appealed to me. In the quiet of this rural setting, a herd of brown Charolais cattle munched peacefully in an adjacent field, a gentle old corralled horse waited patiently for its evening feed, the ripening grain danced happily in a freshening breeze and the cares of a wider world seemed far away.
I would never have been a successful farmer; I have no ability to fix anything needing fixing nor any real expert knowledge of crop or animal management. Yet, on this day of briefly revisiting long ago memories, I did make a modest contribution to the task at hand. Despite an aging body and rusty muscles, I could leave with some sense of accomplishment in that I never quit and bailed out.