A sure sign of spring around here is the ground squirrels are up and running. Scampering to and fro with mouths full of new greenery. Pesky little brown mischief-makers that bring out the hunter in what are usually calm clear headed farmers, wives, kids and even relatives and acquaintances from near and far. In the early morning hours of our cool spring mornings the bang, pop, snap and even and occasional ka-boom can be heard in our little valley. Squirrel hunters are out of their hibernation just like the squirrels are. It’s spring!
Following spring is summer and haying season. It’s a wonderful attack on the senses, this haying season we know. Starting with the first working of the fields and the smell of dirt. When Mother Earth has her ground turned or leveled or disked of course there’s going to be dust, but beyond the dust there’s an earthy aromatic smell that suits me, well, “right down to the ground.” But enough about waxing nostalgic. Let me tell you a little story older hay farmers have, about baling hay — in the middle of the night.
I’m not saying I’m old, but I have been around long enough to see bales of hay go from two twine bales that weighed about 60 pounds, to three wire bales that came in around 120 pounds. Then there was a time when balers gobbled up hay and made these cute little one inch square cubes. Next it was on to huge bales that measure about 4 feet by 3 feet making for a hefty 1,200-1,400 pounds. Then monster bales came along that weigh in at one ton, give or take a hundred pounds. So when I say I have seen hay grow, I know of what I speak as do all the farmers I know.
Now this story is from the three-wire-bale era. Yes, there are still some three wire bale makers, but for the most part the massive one-ton bales dot the summer landscape here. However before, like in the 1980s, three wire bales were the way to go. We put up tons of alfalfa with tractors with no cabs. Swathers with no cabs. Pulled rakes behind tractors with no cabs. No air conditioning, heaters, radios, GPS, hot and cold running water. Okay, so they still don’t have running water in tractors. I was just seeing if you were paying attention. So one night ...
I learned to bale hay at around 2 a.m. Because that’s when you bale hay. In the middle of the night. Without a cab or heater or radio or companionship to keep you on your toes. It’s a quiet time. Uh, except for the tractor screaming and the baler ka-chunking. Ah! A time to contemplate — what? Well what you are going to have for breakfast after baling hay all night.
At the time we farmed, our fields were not the huge 140-acre circles seen now in our area. The fields were between 9 and 52 acres, irrigated with ditches and shovels and rough corrugates to cross. It was in one of those fields I was put onto my first mission of baling hay. I was instructed about the ins and outs of baling for about three minutes and off I went down the row and up the row and down the row ... It’s, after a fashion a mundane task, baling hay. Down and up. Up and down. So much so the ka-chunk of the plunger of the baler soon begins to sooth you. You see the morning star rise in the East. You relax a bit. You don’t notice it, but your eyelids start getting heavy. You yawn, you sing, you light another cigarette, sometimes off of the red hot muffler because you forgot matches. (That’ll help you quit smoking)! You turn at the end of the field and make another round and sometimes you, yes, you, fall asleep.
Do you know what wakes you up? What brings you back to the world of baling and sneezing and being cold? Only one thing. And that one thing is — driving off track and running over a bale from the next row with the huge rear tractor tire! Suddenly your world is at a 52 degree slanted angle. Your heart is in your throat. You, for a few seconds, don’t know where you are or what’s happening. Then your rear wheel crashes back to ground and as quick as you can without peeing, you get everything stopped. And it’s over. Yep, that’s an initiation into the world of hay baling that makes a farmer. And trust me on this, it usually only happens once!
Trina Machacek lives in Eureka. Her book ITY BITS can be found on Kindle. Share your thoughts an opinions with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.