Haying

It is summer. The sun burns down from a clear, blue sky. Locusts whine in the spruce trees by the barn. I try to run barefoot across the hayfield but the stubble is sharp on my city feet. I slow and try sliding my feet below the tops of the cut grass. It helps, but only a little. I’m too small to be of much use in the hayfield but I go anyway because I’m young and curious about everything.

I watch Peter, the black horse, pull the truck wagon across the field. He seems to know when to move and how far to go with just a shout from my grandfather. Uncle John, home for his holidays from Ontario, stands on top of the wagon receiving the forkfuls of hay and building the load. He is directed occasionally by shouts from the others: “A little more here, a little less there. No! No! It’s getting lopsided.” It’s the first time I’ve ever heard the word “lopsided,” and I store it for future thought.

Finally, the load is built to everyone’s satisfaction and we head back to the barn. Someone hoists me up on top for the ride. I sit in the middle of the load amid the itchy, fragrant hay. Uncle John sits down behind me to ensure that I don’t fall off. The load moves over the ruts in the lane, the rolling sensation not unlike riding on the back of a big horse. Much shouting as the load catches on the gatepost into the barnyard, and we leave a tuft of hay-like uncombed hair on top of the post.

The wagon is positioned under the big hay door in the back of the barn. Peter is unhitched and led out front. I am lifted over the wire fence and told to stay there out of harm’s way. I watch with fascination as the huge fork comes speeding out of the hayloft and digs far into the load. Out front, Carol has hitched Peter to the end of the rope that runs all the way from the fork, across the track in the loft, and down to his harness. On top of the load, Uncle John drives the fork as deep as it will go and sets the teeth on either side. The shout is given: “G’head!” The great bundle of hayrides up the side of the barn and disappears into the loft where someone trips the teeth and the hay tumbles down in a heap to be spread evenly across the floor. There is a lot of dust and heat and frequent trips to the pump to get drinks of water.

Another shout and Carol releases Peter from the rope which disappears into the loft to ready the fork for the next load. Forkful after forkful disappears into the darkness of the loft until the truck wagon is almost empty. Uncle John surveys the hay still left.

“D’you think we can get that last in with the fork?” asks Grandpa.

“We can try,” says Uncle John. He drives the fork less deeply, but a little too deeply, into the mound of hay that’s left and shouts: “G’head!” Slowly the bundle of hay, wagon, and Uncle John rise up the side of the barn. Shouting and commotion ensue. “Back! Back!” Uncle John is shocked into speechlessness. He’s suspended halfway to the loft door, too low to climb in and too high to jump to the ground. Someone runs out front to back up Peter and after a tense few minutes, the wagon slowly descends. An accident averted.

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