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The work of making hay spurs remembrances of things past

When we arrive at the corner of spring and summer, and sneezing reverberates throughout the land, it must be haying time.

Ranchers have cut and baled the first of two cuttings by now. As I drive backroads along fields and farms, taking solid comfort from witnessing the timeless and rhythmic work, I'm grateful, once again, to live in a rural community.

I enjoy watching a farmer drive his trusty (or rusty) tractor to make the cut, then rake and tedd (fluff) it into honey-toned windrows to dry, and then there are the bales — dotting the newly shorn pasture like a fine art installation. And the wonderful smell.

But I romanticize. Haying is a fundamental part of living in our valley; it's easy to take it for granted. Even though mechanized harvesting is far less labor-intensive than in days of farmers wielding scythes, it can still be hot, sticky and dirty work.

I recently threw out a request asking my friends to talk about their history with hay. It didn't surprise me that several people had memorable, hands-on experience at some juncture in their lives, or a relative in the field who was possibly too busy to stop and talk with some fool writer. Here are a few of their eloquent responses:

Larry, who hayed in Lake Creek a few years back, said, "Perhaps you have wondered about the dust-covered men who drag themselves into the restaurant this time of year and try to hold a menu in their trembling hands while pollen billows about them like Pigpen in the old Peanuts comic strip. ... Haying is time-specific. You keep going until it is done, and that can mean long, anxious hours when stuff breaks (and it always does)."

Kay knows about the harvest firsthand, with its unfortunate casualties, and shares this account: "I grew up in the Midwest, and baling hay was a summer ritual. Dad would drive the tractor, the baler would shoot the hay bales down onto the wagon, where my brother and cousins would stand. We piled them like Tetris bricks in a stack starting at the front of the flat wagon. The knee was used to heft the bale in place. By the time the wagon was almost full, we had a rhythm going.

"One memory I have is of a killdeer nest, baled in the hay bale. I saw the killdeer parent pretend it had a broken wing, trying to lead us away from where it still thought its nest was. ... I still feel kind of bad about it to this day!"

Patti shared a fresh perspective from her window seat: "My view is a bit different — from my kitchen table! Living on Taylor Road — up by Old Stage in Central Point — ahhh, summers were great when Bernie would be out with his tractor baling our hay ... lotta work! Then he'd hire these darlin' young bucks who'd sometimes take their shirts off and load these bales of hay up onto the rolling ladder — up they'd go. Quite a show watching those magnificent young men hustle their buns. I may have been an old, married mom/housewife, but I wasn't dead yet!"

For me, the heady aroma of freshly cut fields sends me to my grandparents' farm and making playhouses from strategically stacked bales in the barn loft. Tata (grandpa) got after us, saying the cows wouldn't eat hay with people smell all over it, but he didn't police us too strictly, and the cows grew fat despite us. I recall chewing on straws with Cousin Linda and plotting some musical skit with which to torment the family.

For those of you with allergies, I'm genuinely sorry. I've heard that eating local, raw honey will help. For the rest — stop and smell the hayfield.

I'll sign out with some sage advice from friend Cliff: "Beware of skunks when you are cutting hay! 'Nuff said."

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer who works from a 1900 farmhouse in Eagle Point. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.