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Making hay

Lead Summary
Christine Tailer-
It seems that I have always known the expression “make hay while the sun still shines” and understood it to mean that one should take advantage of the chance to do something while the conditions for doing so are favorable. I now know that understanding – and really knowing – are actually quite different. Our crops and garden have all been planted for a while, but our hay field of clover and alfalfa has been simply sitting, waiting for several
dry days so we could cut, then rake, and rake it back the other way, and finally bale it.

I have been checking the long- range weather forecast only to find chances of rain almost every day until several days ago.

There was still a chance of rain, but the chances were low, and we really did need to get that hay in, so Greg hitched up the hay conditioner to the old blue tractor, and one evening, as I puttered about the garden and greenhouse, he cut the field. Even from the garden I could smell the wonderful scent of fresh-cut hay. The chickens must have noticed it too, for
soon they were all pecking their way across the near end of the field. Greg finished just as darkness fell, and we fell asleep, hoping for dry weather for the next several days.

My heart sank the next morning when I looked up to the top of the hill behind the cabin. Even though the sun shone down on our creek valley, the sky to the west was a solid blanket of thick dark clouds. A cool breeze was blowing across the valley from the east. It gave me hope that the winds would be strong enough to keep the clouds to the west of our hay field.

Late in the afternoon, a few raindrops fell, but only a few. The garden soil did not get wet and was actually starting to look somewhat parched. That evening I raked the hay into windrows, while Greg mowed.

Raking hay might seem an easy task. Just ride up and down the field and let the rake make neat long rows of piled hay, but our field is shaped like a kidney bean and is narrow in the middle and wide at the ends and, as usual, Greg had instructed me to make neat windrows. All went smoothly as I rode around and around the field, raking the hay onto the ground that I had just cleared the pass before, but when I reached the narrow middle, I was
overcome with confusion. I had somehow imagined that a plan would occur to me as I got closer to this middle ground, but no such plan was occurring. If I made a break for the edge of the field, the tidy windrows would have had a swath cut right through them. I doubted that this would satisfy Greg’s concept of neat.

I slowed the tractor down, grabbed the well-worn suicide knob on the steering wheel, and with the center of the knob in the palm of my hand, I turned the tractor in the sharpest turn it could make. I glanced back at the rake, hoping that its tongue would not catch on the tractor’s wheels. Thankfully, it did not, and before I knew it, I was headed back the other

Soon I had this end of the field done and looking at least halfway neat. All went well until I was finished and it dawned on me that there I was, stuck again in the middle of the field. I knew that I had to make an escape, but perhaps if I did it at the far end of the field, back behind the trees and out of sight of the road, no one would notice. So back up the middle of the field I rode and drove straight across the neat rows at the end to make my escape.

Greg raked the hay back over the other way so the bottoms of the windrows could dry. A neighbor stopped by and looked up at the sky. He predicted that the clouds just west of the creek valley would surely bring rain, but the breeze was still blowing and clouds stayed to the west. And tomorrow the hay should be dry enough so that and we can set up the square
baler and ride along the top of the windrows and drop magically random bales across the field.

I now know that making hay while the sun shines is really a matter of several long, rain-free days, filled with hard work and a constant eye to the sky, days that are also all filled with the beautiful scent of new hay filling the creek valley.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at

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