Reflections from the Swamp
I called this piece “Haying with Guy Lafleur” to get your attention. Sometimes I think my writings get lost between all the great recipes, quizzes, and important news in the Millstone. Montreal has always been my favourite hockey team. Guy Lafleur was such a treasure. Guy Lafleur does show up later in my story, so read on. This story is about haying with friends.
After I started teaching, having the summers off perked the interest of my farming friends, especially during the haying season. Ol’ Edmond still had 30 acres behind us when he sold us the house. He had good hay at home but liked to scrounge around the country, finding unused pastures to hay.
We hayed the “Old Brown Farm,” a Presbyterian minister’s sheep farm near Almonte, Edmonds fields and my field. Edmond or I would pass over the area with a “conditioner,” which leaves the hay cut in rows. Then we used a square baler with a stooker, a metal sled which required me to hand place the bales as they arrived until six bales were stacked and ready for release. The “Old Brown Farm” had sparse grass, which probably wasn’t worth haying. You could lie down and fire a shot through the grass and never hit a blade of timothy; it was so thin.
It was frustrating haying with Edmond. We started late because the dew was still on the grass. Then we’d walk through the field only to discover that the grass was still damp. By now, it was lunchtime and nap time, so we would get started at about 3.00 PM, after tea and regreasing all the equipment.
Edmond didn’t pay me, but he suggested that I exchange my hay for his alfalfa hay which was much better for my sheep. He said his cows weren’t fussy eaters. I’d call a few friends to get the bales into the barn at Edmond’s place. Don’t wear shorts if you plan to try this. My legs looked like they had a bad case of chicken pocks. Edmond hayed into his 80s and was never happier than when he was bringing in the sheaves.
Farmer Brown is a dairy farmer. He grew a mixer of corn, grains and hay for his dairy herd. Farmer Brown still used a square baler before using those giant marshmallows bags. He didn’t take naps or stop for tea. His fields were at least twice as rich in hay as mine were. I’d stand on the wagon and stack the hay until we had a massive rectangle of a hundred bales. We used an elevator to get the bales up into the loft, where we stacked them to allow for maximum use of space.
Farmer Brown, like most dairy farmers, seldom left the farm. He built a shed with a roof that could roll off to one side so that he could watch the stars with his telescope. He said some people travel to go on vacations, but I fly around the universe at night, visiting the moon, stars and galaxies that few have seen. I brought my class from Carp up to see the stars. We came at night after Farmer Brown finished chores. He was too busy during the day. Yes, there are fewer stars visible during the day as well!
Haying with Harry was always a treat. There was always more to the story than just haying. Harry convinced Nortel to let him grow a barley crop on their fields round their glass towered center off Moody. Nortel got an agricultural tax deduction, and Harry got the barley for free. He didn’t have access to a thrashing machine, so he cut the barley while it was still green and baled it.
Harry reasoned that his horses would get barley hay mixed with grain when he fed them. When I told Edmond about Harry’s novel farming technics, Edmond said,” That’s good for us. Every rat in West Carleton will be camping out in Harry’s barn.” It was true. Rats became so plentiful that the usually timid creatures would stare at you from up on the bales.
The rat population became so prolific that Harry could grab a pack of warfarin(a rat killer), shove it into a crack between the bales, and the rats would snatch it out of his hands. Once when I was visiting just before supper, his sons came in for supper. Harry said,” No supper until you’ve killed ten rats each. The kids grabbed the 22 rifles and were back within 10 minutes. I left quickly in case rats were on the menu; roadkill was a family favourite.
Once, we were haying across the Queensway from The Palladium, which was in the early stages of construction. It is now called The Canadian Tire Centre. They had already torn down the farmhouse and barns; however, a chicken coop closer to the Queensway still stood. Somebody had already taken the tin off the roof. After bringing the hay home, I wanted the building before it got demolished, so we returned to the chicken coop. As you know, if we had asked for the chicken coop, there would have been a bunch of red tape, so we dispensed with this formality.
Harry placed the tractor bucket under one side of the building and lifted it above the level of the hay wagon. We pushed the wagon under the chicken coop. After some more finagling, we secured the shed onto the wagon.
Meanwhile, our activity precipitated in drawing the attention of the construction crew. A huge man wearing a white construction helmet started lumbering toward us. He barked out,” Whose permission did you get to take the shed?” Before I could get my creative juices flowing, Harry stuck his head out the window and replied,” Guy Lafleur.” The foreman smiled and said,” If it’s OK with Guy, it’s OK with me.”
Square bales have primarily been replaced with round bales. I’m not asked to help with the haying anymore. Like most seniors, I’m forced to retreat to the warm memories of the summer sun and the sweet smells of fresh-cut grasses.
We should all make hay while the sun shines. There are still times between all of our storms when the light shines. Grab those moments and go for a hayride.