If you've never indulged some minor masochistic desire to try haymaking, you'll have no idea quite how all absorbing, stressful, sweat-inducing and completely exhausting the process is for folks doing it the old way. Not building stooks or anything quite that medieval, but producing small bales that a person of ordinary strength can manage on their own or shift with the wheelbarrow without the necessity of a mega-tractor and fancy implements.
Turning the hay is fine on a comfy tractor but our tractors are so old they're practically vintage and the seats lost their bounce long ago.
When the hay has reached perfection (which is a big ask, fraught as it is with fanatical weather forecasting) you row up the hay and then the baler comes along sucking it in and spewing out bales. But yesterday the wind was so dramatic that I had to row up with the baler travelling all of six inches behind my tractor as gusts sent heaps of hay into the air and across the field moments after the rows were all neatly created. My clutch foot was so tired by the end of the day that I considered going to sleep in the field rather than walking back to the house.
Every bale gets handled multiple times: to stack so that the flat 8 or Perry loader can pick it up; again to position it on the trailer; and then to heave it off the trailer into the barn, getting higher and higher with every trailer load. You sweat copiously, back bent as the hay gets close to the roof, skin covered in itchy seeds and little bits of dried grass.
Friends appear at your elbow and help load, or unload - life would be impossible without folks like this. Two of the builders come and throw bales around for a couple of hours too, delaying their breakfast.
And then the scary bits. The tractors aren't nervewracking as long as you know what you are doing and the land holds no surprises (no hidden, violent ridge and furrow, tree roots, old bricks, springs, cliffs etc). Bales aren't scary either. But standing on a trailer and building the stack is completely terrifying if, like me, you've a real aversion to heights. I shut my eyes when lifted off the top of a loaded trailer by the bale loader, but then I have to clamber up again back at the barn to heave the bales off. To say this is a trial for me is an understatement. I do my best, I really do, but you won't catch me clambering around the heights with anything other than a grimace and unsteady hands. I only feel safe when I have the solid bed of the trailer once again beneath my feet.
The new bale counter didn't work, so I have no proof as to how many bales were made and handled over the last three days, but I do know it's between 1000 and 1500, and I feel I have an intimate relationship with each and every one. But it's done for another year, and unlike the 2007 washout, the 2008 crop looks fantastic. The sweet smell of well cured hay is in the air, and even a bit of local muck spreading this evening couldn't mask it.