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I love hay days

This has been a poor hay summer in Maine, and we were just commiserating with a friend who lost his crop. Rain. The record avers that after 40 days and 40 nights of rain the earth was under a deluge, but new evidence challenges that. We had 40 days of rain in the month of May alone, not counting June and July. I found it prudent to keep my skiff tied to the front porch, so if need arose we could escape to the mountains, and while no serious flood has accrued yet, I have found it handy for rowing out to get the mail, and to pole up into the garden to catch some mackerel and radishes.

All records for this vicinity have been washed out, and the continued inclemency has brought great unhappiness to the summercaters, who find it unpleasant to sit around in fog and showers in halters and shorts. The moisture has also added unusual pizazz to our mosquitoes, so they have been hanging around more than common, now and then carrying off somebody's dog and ripping screens out of bedroom windows.

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The loss of my friend's hay set me to a pleasant recall of old-time summers which often fetched a drought, and always gave us happy hay days and a barn full of fragrant provender. The most we would get would be an afternoon thundershower , but we knew how to handle them. It was rare indeed that wet weather persisted until we lost any hay. When thunderheads appeared in the western sky following a dandy forenoon, everybody had at it and we almost always trotted the last load of hay into the wide barn doors just as the heavens were rent by an old jerooshler of a burst and the barn shingles rattled with the pelt of water. Safe home, the load was still warm from the ardor of the meadow, and could be stowed in the mows after the shower had passed.

Hay came harder in those days before sophisticated machinery. By my time the mowing machine was standard, and we had a hoss-rake. But no field balers, and hay was pitched up to the rack by hand. The load would be made by an agile man able to ''take'' from both sides at once, arrange the load so it wouldn't slide off, and rein the horses to the next windrow. Building load was considered easier than ''pitching on,'' so he who built was expected to pitch off at the mow. This made sense, because he had laid down the forkfuls and should remember how to take the load apart. Later, we got an unloader that ran on a track in the peak of the barn, and he who made load now had only to plunge the harpoon and stand back. His assistant, who could well have been me, would then gee up old Fan. Fan would train her whiffletree and activate the block and tackle that hoisted the hay to the mows.

Any farm toddler could lead an old Fan back and forth, and as chief toddler in my time I walked many a mile to earn the glass of lemonade or switchell that rewarded haymakers once the load was off. I was careful, and old Fan never set one of her great gorming feet on my little bare tootsies - something I was positive she was trying to do with every step, negotiating to catch me fair and square and smiling inwardly at the thought. A succession of old Fans in my fetching up gave me an unalterable detestation of all horses, and while many a horse lover has chided me since then, I believe my opinion was justified. The farm horses of my youth were not nice people.

The urgency of total cooperation to bring that last load of hay to the sanctuary of the barn before the first drop of a shower materialized gives the thrust to the story of Milt Carey. Milt wasn't considered all that swift (a down-Maine adjective for measuring intellect), but in haying time every hand counted and Milt always came to help us. One July afternoon the thunderheads rose in the west and consternation accrued. Even Grandmother came from the house to rake scatterings and do what she could. Everybody was hurrying. As the great black clouds mounted higher and the rumbles drew nigher, it began to look as if we might not make it. Then Uncle Timothy, pitching furiously, noticed that Milt Carey was pursuing a more moderate course. ''Come on, Milt!'' Uncle Timothy yelled. ''Step around and stir your stumps! I swow! - I could build stone wall faster than you're pitching hay!''

Milt put the tines of his pitchfork to the ground, folded his arms, and rested a hand on the handle. He waggled his head. Then he said, ''Not and lug your own rocks, you couldn't.''

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