August 25th, 2007


the week of hay

(Albion Cross, 11:06pm, August 24th)

I meant to write for my blog earlier today, after getting in from unloading the hay and taking Heber’s tractor back to Rosshaven. It would have begun something like this:

I am so exhausted. I never want to see another hay bale again for the rest of my life.

Instead, I exhibited this exhaustion not by commiserating to my blog, but by sleeping on top of the bedclothes in my hay clothes all afternoon. How much progress am I making on that Seiko Gakuen information package and Sam’s language materials? Don’t ask.

The rain this morning came as sweet relief, but I regret that we had to leave two tarp-covered wagons out in Red House – the hay will get a little wet, and will need a good sunny day (uncovered) to dry out before we can even think of stuffing it in the loft of the barn there. We did get two unloaded, though, and we unloaded an additional wagon plus the truck-friendly road trailer in the shelter of the cavernous barn here at the farm proper.

Yesterday was brutal. Four unloads, a quick lunch, and then out to the field for 1,362. Then I had a fun experience with hauling hay that I’ll tell separately for emphasis. Then we put tarps on the loads at Red House, and by the time all this was done the day that had started at 7:00am ended at 9:00pm, and I couldn’t even go to bed – my cousins were expecting me to help them out at Trivia Night up at the fair grounds. We had fun, and I got home from that just after midnight, and then it was up at 6:00am again this morning for work (again) at 7. But the rain set in before 10 and ensured that we wouldn’t be baling today. Thank God.

This week has been the most strenuous I’ve had since the few 60-hour weeks I completed at TeleTech last year. I know there are some people who can work 80 or more hours and not miss a beat, but I’m not one of those people. Anyway, if you put all my work hours together I would imagine it would come to somewhat less than sixty, but this is much more physically demanding work. Also, after a shift at TeleTech, you’re not coaxing black souvenirs out of your nose with a Kleenex. Still, there are things worse than packing hay, which I’m reminding myself of as I type this, struggling with allergy-irritated Eustachian tubes and trying to pop my ears.

Yeah, I’m kind of looking forward to getting back out to Souris tomorrow night. The rural lifestyle would be the death of me. I’ll be helping out with our stand at the Farmer’s Market at the fair tomorrow, and next week will be far easier than this one was: there’s only one field of hay left (if you don’t count the stuff we haven’t brought in, but it’s been rained on enough that we may leave it unless someone wants it for road construction or warehouse banking or something), and then probably a day or two of straw, but we may wait until early September for that, and straw is less dense (and therefore lighter) than hay anyway.

Oh, want to hear the tractor story?

* * *

So I’m on the Massey-Ferguson yesterday, which is a reasonably old tractor – there’s no cab, and you have to wear ear protection (they look like headphones, so I think I’ll call them headfoams) when you operate it – and I’ve got two full wagonloads of hay trailing behind me, weighing many tons.

I said when I was told that I’d be driving it from the old Ross farm to Red House, “Yay! I get the deathtrap!” I had found that the throttle and clutch had been acting up, and earlier that day we had to get our Cousin Heber’s tractor (a very good little Ford) to run the baler because the Massey’s PTO* 1) wouldn’t stop and 2) despite #1, wouldn’t run the baler. The PTO didn’t have anything to do with me, although I noted with some chagrin that the tiny stub of it protruding from the back wouldn’t stop spinning. This was clearly a tractor in need of attention.

* - Power Take Off, a rotary extension of a tractor’s drivetrain that can be used to run equipment like snowblowers, hay balers, rakes, tethers, bush mowers, spreaders, etc...

Anyway, so I’m heading off the field, hoping to get to Red House. The road out of the Ross farm is downhill. It didn’t take long for me to discover that I had no engine braking. I gathered dangerous speed as I trundled down the hill, merely skidding and sliding ineffectually as I attempted to pedal-brake. (“Is this how I’m going to die?” I wondered inside.) I had no hope of stopping at the road, and I was fortunate that there was no traffic as I barely managed to make a wrong left turn and head off in the opposite direction to Dingwell’s Mills.

As I got over the shock of the near-accident, I started thinking about where I was going to turn around. Reaching Red House via Fortune Bridge was not an option; there would have been an even steeper downhill stretch on that road. You might be wondering why I didn’t just back up to the farm road and turn around that way. The answer is that backing up a wagon requires substantial expertise; while backing up with two-wheel trailers is one thing, four-wheel trailers and wagons are something else entirely. It’s completely counterintuitive, and you have to think six ways at once. Dad tried to teach me once a few weeks back, and I succeeded in going straight backwards for short spurts, but executing a controlled backing turn (without the back wheels of the tractor coming close to meeting the front corner of the wagon) remained beyond my reach. Backing up two wagons is generally impossible and rarely attempted; in such a case, they’ll usually be detached and backed up one at a time.

So I’m driving along, looking forlornly at the various little paths that went off the road into the woods and wondering if they lead to clearings or fields. On my way Heather passed me in Heber’s truck – I first thought she was going to the field to pick up his tractor, but that night at Trivia she told me that she was actually moving some things to her new house in Souris, and she was on the back roads because she had no brakes! So we had something in common as we both waved to each other in a guilty, wary, confused sort of way.

After a while I realized that the
intersection of Highways 2 and 4 (which I was approaching) would be an ideal place to turn around; it’s quite large and has a little off-ramp from 4 to 2 East – I could take that, pull a U-turn, then turn back into Route 4, then turn left and complete the circle. But it didn’t even come to that; just before that intersection there was a sand and gravel pit (for road construction)… with two driveways! I slowed to a crawl and took the second entrance as widely as I could. (You have to take your turns very widely with two wagons, or else the corners of your wagons meet, with potentially destructive results; after this trip was finished there were a few more telltale shards of wood broken off from said corners.)

I gently curled around a power pole, gingerly rolled over a few ruts and bumps, and finished by fording a wide, sandy mud puddle. I got back onto the road, this time facing Red House…

YES!! I couldn’t believe it! I had looked danger in the eye and triumphed! HA-HA! I pumped my fist before making yet another steering correction that had been neglected in my exuberance. Sweet relief and exhilarating joy circulated as one within me.

At length (the detour alone took more than 20 minutes), I got the loads safely to their destination. I discussed the incident with Dad, and he told me apologetically that he had neglected to tell me I ought to be in “High Multipower,” which provides engine braking – I was in low, and that’s why I coasted. Naturally the labels on this switch and many others have worn / rusted off with the process of time, and I couldn’t tell which setting was which even if I had really known which setting I wanted.

Fast-forward to Trivia Night, where I’m fresh off the field and smelling of hay. (Despite this, I received a warm welcome, both from the Rosses (my team) and Glen Swallow’s team; in fact, Glen turned me around in my chair and pulled me over to his table.) Let’s not talk about the trivia results; we beat Glen’s team, but we also beat ourselves in not sticking with a few correct initial answers and I think we finished 4th or 5th.

I told the Rosses about my experience today, and Heber later mentioned that he had been preparing to harrow* or was going to harrow, and Jennifer (his wife) said in her delicious English accent, “Oh, you and your harrowing, you’re the only one who cares about that!” I said, “Well, you know, today with the tractor I also had a harrowing experience.”

* - I had to look this up: “to break up land by pulling a harrow over it.” The harrow is “a piece of farm equipment with sharp teeth or disks that is used to break up soil and clods of dirt and to even up a plowed field.” (Encarta World English Dictionary, Microsoft)

So after the laughter subsided, we had our team name: The Harrowing Experience. After Heber talked about harrowing some more I suggested we could be Heber Ross and the Deathly Harrows, but we stuck with the original name. =)

* * *

Oh, I can’t forget to mention the Queen of the Furrows competition. Vicki, Miss Springwater Farm, won! Isn’t that awesome? We sponsored her at the last minute, as she entered with my cousin Christina. Now nobody but us really cares that she was Miss Springwater Farm, everybody else just noticed that she was well-spoken, good-humoured, respectable with a plow, and rather fetching in evening wear – in other words, perfect, but it’s a cool little thing that we played a small part in it. Go, Vicki!