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The View from Mary's Farm

The View from Mary's Farm for August 2006

July 28, 2006

Making Hay

On the wall inside the barn hangs an old scythe. It belonged to my husband, who knew how to sharpen the blade and how to wield the serpentine tool to cut grass neatly and sharply. He was not an old man but rather a young man who appreciated the ways of the old. The scythe handle is itself of wondrous design, contrived to pass straight along the curving contours of the land, to have mercy on the grass as well as the man who cradled it, an ancient dance between earth and man.
Haying quickens the pace and brightens awareness, as we watch the sky and smell the air for the sudden change of a summer’s afternoon. I try to imagine the fields here, all cut by hand. I know that the men came out in teams and cut together. I’ve heard the sound was like a great singing whisper.
Many years ago, I helped hay fields in the windy and cool climate of Iceland. The grass was not cut with a scythe but rather with sickle bar attached to the side of a small, squat Russian-made tractor. The cutter laid the grass in rows to dry in the cool Arctic sun. What Icelandic farmers do not have in intensity, they make up for in hours – the summer sun never sets so there’s more time for drying. When the hay was ready, we children of the farm were sent out to rake it into windrows. Later, when these rows had dried, we began the harder task of collecting the hay, using rake and pitchfork. We used the fork to stab the grass, bunching it tighter and tighter onto the sharp tines until we had tight bundles at the end of our forks. We’d heft these handmade bales onto a wagon until the overflowing load was pulled back to the barn where we would unload it, one bundle at a time, into the high loft, a precious harvest for the very long winter to come.
Hay is still made on this farm, though I don’t participate. Each year, it seems, the process becomes quicker, more synchronized, more efficient. Jay, a farmer who is also my neighbor, takes the hay from my fields as well as from the fields that adjoin. He and his son-in-law come in on fast tractors and sometimes sweep the fields in a majestic John Deere duet, the two tractors cutting, tedding and raking in tandem. The baler has a kick on it so that as the bales are made, they pop out of the hopper and fly up in a high arc, landing neatly in the wagon behind. On a summer evening, this can make for mesmerizing viewing as the field becomes the stage on which these tractors and bales become the performers. The sound is more a great clatter than a whisper. At last, sun setting, engines straining, gears grinding, the tired farmers pull the harvest home, wagons piled high as a house. The scent of drying grass lingers in the air and comes in my open windows at night. Within days, the fields green up, the beginning of another crop. Making hay, however it is cut and baled, is an eternal harvest, if we can keep the fields and the farmers that long.

Selected Works

In 1992, the Bishop of Worcester condemned St. Joseph's Catholic Church and ordered it closed. The parishioners refused to leave, sleeping on cots and on the hard pews. For thirteen months this was their life. In July of 1993, they were removed by the police. In many ways this was the blossoming of their faith. Originally published in Yankee Magazine in November 1993.
Growing up, nothing I could do seemed to please my mother and nothing she said made sense to me. But when my mother, on the threshold of death, came to live with me, I found what seemed to have been lost forever. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1995
(The follow-up article to Miracle at St. Joseph's.) The Bishop turned to them and said, "Your prayers have been answered, the hard hearts have softened." Originally published in Yankee Magazine, December 1996
A reflection on the power of cooking and friendship and the concept of family. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, November/December 2007
Memorial Day, Harrisville, New Hampshire 1995. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1996
My Articles
Libraries occupy a special place in the heart of a town. Evening events at the library give a strong sense of community and make it seem like a great place to live. And in the wake of the online revolution small town libraries have found a way to not only survive but to be indispensable.
In December 2008 an epic ice storm left virtually the entire state of New Hampshire without power. The residual effects of that storm paralyzed the Monadnock Region almost through Christmas. A first person account.
In 1994, sixteen-year-old Billy Best was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. After several treatments, he ran away to avoid chemotherapy. What happened after that may have been a miracle.
Roxanne Quimby once lived primitively in the Maine woods. Today she owns 90,000 acres of those woods, and her goal is to create a national park to preserve the landscape forever. So why do so many people wish she'd just go away?
Multi-million dollar border stations are rising along our line between US and Canada. What was once the "friendliest border" has become deadly serious.
Renowned short story writer, Andre Dubus, reflects on the accident that cost him his legs.
A trip to Poland discovers a beloved family friend
An elegy for the master of the short story.
Fall comes to The County
Thousands seek healing from this innocent, comatose child.
A complete listing of articles published since 1978
An encounter with a sick fox brings a young woman to the heart of her grief