One of the more striking lines I read in a novel was not one of poetry, not a lyrical description of a life or a place or time, the language, itself, unlike most quotable quotes, was not seared on my mind.
A farmer came in sputtering about the baler breaking, about the baler always breaking in the middle of a job and the response, likely unspoken, that it wasn’t going to break down sitting in the barn. Which, yes, I know, can happen.
Haying season is so short, and there need be a solid round of stellar days for cutting and drying and raking and baling and all those other jobs in between the field and the barn. It is a part of my earliest memories, under that hot summer sun, one of those hated jobs that left beloved memories, probably because I didn’t have to do it anymore.
A year or two before I started going to work every day I hung out with a couple of summer kids on the road, a different perspective on the world. They had one of those summer cottages that are so rare these days, the ones everyone says they would love if only they still existed, but a second house, nonetheless. The kitchen wasn’t fancy, minimal I suppose, but for some reason it struck me that they had two kitchens, two sets of dishes, one lugged back and forth every spring and fall.
One evening we were over on the back lawn of other summer neighbors, when owners stayed the season and did not bother us as long as we did not bother them. I was being chided for hesitating to sit on the grass while I wondered over those rounds of black across the pond, on the western part of one of my parents’ lots.
“I guess he burned the hay” explaining only that it had been ruined by the rain, not bothering to try to explain what I couldn’t at the time as much as I knew it to be a fact: damp hay packed in a barn can be dangerous. It was years later someone came back after stacking bales in my old shed, winced when she put her hand inside the bale, them starting unloading the hay that was, in fact, smoldering, hot and wet and steaming.
Between looking across the pond at the remains of the hay and that day I had learned — and forgotten — the mechanics of the process other than it was a scientific fact and there it was in front of me, ready to ignite.
Here, the years are laced with other memories, the big wagon slowly making its way through Weldon’s Way to the delight of visitors, another time a car having to pass the tractor and rake making its way out of the Neck, making a dash as soon as it cleared the crest of the rise by the Breakers, only to turn into the Scotch Beach parking lot.
The other day I received a courtesy text that the mower could show up “if his machines are working and the weather holds.”
They were and it did.
The clatter wasn’t that of the old sickle bar with its triangular teeth sliding back and forth, felling grass, but of a wider piece of equipment, which I did not see come in and go out but am now thinking must somehow fold upon itself to navigate these narrow roads. The field being cut was hayed years ago, it was pasture in my earliest memories, when the big garden was cut from a corner of it, walled with an electric fence, none of the wire-embedded cord, charged by the sun, which surrounds the meadows today, but old-fashioned barbed wire, evil stuff powered by a
black battery, which hung at a corner where the fenced garden met the fenced yard.
The land was cut, albeit more sporadically, as time passed. Still, it always came, a year a sparse junk hay improved markedly after only one season. There were even a couple of self-starting olive trees down there at the edge of the swale, so long ago they were left to thrive and eventually spread.
My mother used to talk of those fields starting to turn to brush during what were then called the War Years, when there was no question of “which war?” - and of my father clearing them using some rake he’d won writing what was basically “why I want a...” for a manufacturer/dealer of equipment for truly small farms trying to survive during those optimistic times.
I never understood how it worked, after that clearing it hung in the shed rafters, occasionally recognized for what it was. The big front field was sown with alfalfa which I recognized back when our world was this little farm.
Times change, the field got cut when it could, when there was spare time and the equipment was working, but after all the animals, ours and then our neighbors, were gone, and the land, everywhere, took a shift toward the wild, the springtime grass that grew tall and pliant and sang before the wind, was taken over by weeds and scrub. It was still quite beautiful in the spring, when the multiflora bloomed, and in its summer
green, and on those occasional days the snow covered it with white powder.
The first paths cut were a bit of a maze, curved trails through over-my- head masses of bayberry and honeysuckle, goldenrod and milkweed and the invasive no one wants to mention aloud for fear of summoning them.
They used to burn, no longer realistic, but it worked so well, banishing the intruders, giving the deeply rooted native plants and long established grasses room to grow, again. So, I am blessed to have this mowing again, as time and equipment permits, and never tire of the reactions of photos posted on social media, folks older then I recalling the smell of fallen grass on a childhood summer day on Block Island.