Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Good Old Fashioned Roll in the Hay

I spent the afternoon reliving my past by volunteering to help my uncle work on his farm. Having been raised on small dairy and tobacco farms, I considered myself an old hand at this. Baling hay, no sweat! The laugh was on me.

Fortunately, I was smart enough to remember the first rule of working in a hay field. This is, obviously, never pee on a fence. In all likely hood it is electrified. This could lead to all sorts of male and reproductive problems. One does not want to work on a farm with reproductive problems. Farmers need children, especially since slave labor has now been abolished. Think about it. Why do you think the Amish have so many kids?

To be honest, this isn't brain-challenging work, and is not surprisingly very hard, physical labor, unless of course you get to drive the tractor. This is NOT the cushy job it seems. Oh yes, it means that you have gotten out of the heavy, really sweaty and dirty stuff, but it also means that the rest of the laborers think you are a weenie. (My family has lots of pictures of me driving the tractor.)

It is also repetitive work, and not very conversational. It is difficult to have a conversation with the baler and the tractor running. For a while you scream at each other like old ladies at smorgasbord, but you soon you give up. Basically one needs to save the screaming energy for more important things like "So and so just fell off the wagon" and "Is that a snake in that bale?”

Which leads us to important matters like, when you see something in a bale of hay that doesn't look like hay, chances are it isn't. Leave it alone. While it may be a stick, it is often not and non-stick baled creatures are usually pretty pissed off. Just stack something on top of it as quickly as possible and hope it dies before you put it in the barn.

There were a few other things that I remembered that paid off. You know, common sense stuff like wear gloves. And don't freak out when you pull the gloves off and the red lining is all over your hands. This IS simply the red lining, not blood...most of the time.

Also balance is a good thing and being put on top of the wagon is not. This requires more balance. Never make comments like, "Those five years of dance class paid off". Your co-laborers will snicker at you and make you prove it.

There were a number of things I had forgotten as well. Hard lessons all learned to remember next time. Never, and let me repeat this, NEVER get macho and take your shirt off. Guys, and gals for that matter, never ever do this, even if you are in a field by the highway and think that women driving by will see you all macho and shirtless and swoon. In farm country most will probably just drive by and think, "What an idiot." If they have a friend with them, no doubt the friend will add something to the conversation like, "Bet he had five years of dance class."

I know it is hot and sweaty work, but if you make the mistake of shirtless hay baling the perspiration just magnetizes the naked skin to loose hay, bugs and small not quite dead stuff in the bales. There is also the sun factor. Don't be an idiot, strip and use sunscreen. This just makes the problem worse.

Luckily for me I have olive skin and rarely burn. I just get darker. This is why I realized that every time I visited Africa, natives kept trying to speak to me in Portuguese. I don't know Portuguese; I just look that way after a few minutes in the hot sun. Of course, while baling hay this isn't really a problem as you don't really hold conversations, and fortunately most of my family can barely speak English, and know I am Melungeon not Portuguese.

Once the hay has been baled, and you've spent all afternoon balancing on top of the wagon red handed and looking Portuguese with yellow itchy chest hair flecked with things you hope are dead, you must put the hay in the barn. This is known by the complicated hard to remember term of "putting the hay in the barn".

My uncle has a handy electric conveyor like contraption that allows you to drop a bale on it from the wagon and it, well, conveys the bale to the third story hayloft in the barn dropping it on whoever is standing there. Hopefully, most people have the common sense to stand to the side and wait for it to drop. Do not be all macho and try to catch it. This is fruitless and sometimes painful.

It is also important that the hay be good and dry. Damp bales of hay piled on top of each other can heat up like an oven and spontaneously combust. This will also happen while smoking in the hayloft. If this should occur while you are smoking in a hayloft, quickly hide your smokes and blame it on the dampness.

Once the hay has been put in the barn, there is another small task to be performed. This is the all important tick check. Yes, like the primate cleaning his fellow primate, it is important to check one's hair and body for ticks. However do not, like the primates, attempt to eat the tick. Chances are the bugger will attach itself before you even get in one good crunch.

I also recommend you do this in the privacy of your own home and not the barnyard. Cattle will eat anything and they can be extremely friendly. One should also do this before the shower. Ticks do not rinse off or look bright and bouncy after a crème rinse. They just dig in and become harder to find.

Now I am home. I have de-ticked. (None thank you.) And my chest hair is it's usual color and relatively non itchy. I am tired, but I am surprisingly full of energy, like you feel after a good work out at the gym. I guess my testosterone is pumping hard as I feel this almost uncontrollable manly prowess.

Wait a minute; maybe THAT'S why the Amish have so many kids!