Friday, June 6, 2014

Making Hay

It's been my observation that haying takes place in installments, the first being some time in June followed by another round in late July or early August. The tall grass lies in winnows in the fields, its greenness fading a bit more with each passing day, the air around it redolent with its sweet aroma. The oblong bales are quickly loaded onto the hay wagons pulled slowly along the country roads by the veteran farmers who've been at this for generations. The somewhat recent innovation of wrapping the round bales in white plastic caught me off-guard the first time I saw a field off Route 35 dotted with what appeared to be enormous marshmallows.

Each season brings with it its own rituals that have nothing to do with what appears on the shelves in local department stores. In these parts, talk of county and regional fairs is filtering into some conversations as local growers and their families prepare to display their year's best bounty either in the form of livestock or other fruits of their labors. Cases of canning and jelly jars appear on discount and hardware store shelve, and it won't be long before the 'pick your own apples' signs begin appearing on roadsides and at back road intersections. The sound of chainsaws is becoming more frequent now, as there isn't much summer heat left to coax the dampness from newly cut maples and oaks and to build up the woodpiles that are surely a boon when the cost of other ways to heat a home become prohibitive.

There was a time when I spent such days canning tomatoes and making pickles and other preserves. At no other time does a housewife feel as close and as intimate a kinship to the growing things as when she is putting foods by. Taking what the earth provides and storing it against hunger and need are ancient practices that date back to a time when sustenance involved so much more than a quick trip to the corner store. My own grandchildren look at me in innocent wonder when I tell that just about anything they find in a jar or package at the store can be made at home. The pleasure of slicing cucumbers and watching them turn golden in a sweet brine defies explication, as does hearing the pop of the canning jar lids as they seal themselves while cooling. And there is nothing like the aroma of bubbling fruit destined to turn a lowly cupboard shelf into a cache of preserves that provides the extra satisfaction of knowing you made them yourself.

Another sign of the seasonal times is the sound of acorns leaving the oak trees. As with so much in nature, it's a progression, beginning with just one or two and building to the torrent it will become once the squirrels start knocking them down. Walking across the yard will be like walking on marbles, and if I don't rake them up, many will quickly take hold and establish themselves as seedlings before the first frost. As it stands, I never get them all, and I spend most of the spring and summer pulling up oak seedlings, their large pale green gently lobed leaves obvious interlopers among the blades of grass and lemon balm stalks.

Aside from her occasional bursts of energy in the form of storms or high winds, nature takes her time with just about everything, pacing herself so as not to disturb the gentle rhythms that rule all that lives and grows in her vast domain. In the spring, the peepers start slowly, first one then another until the spring night air is filled with their song. And then, just as methodically, summer's end slips in, and I awaken to the sound of acorns hitting the roof. Not as pleasant a sound, yet a necessary element of the endless cycle of life in these woods.


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