Bringing in the Hay

sunset and rainbow

My neighbors to the north have a small farm. They are a young family who’ve grown up in the life of farming here. Ian wants to have cows on his 80 acres — in fact he wants to buy some of the adjoining 600 — but that’s still on the wish list. For now he hays the pastures every summer and keep a few critters, dogs, and a cat. He has kept goats and chickens since I’ve been here, but not right now. This summer he has a couple of horses in the pasture closest to the house, the one where he had a steer a few years ago. They’re here because another neighbor had too many mouths on her pasture, plus she broke her arm, so Ian stepped in. He has to haul water for them every day. He uses a 100-gallon utility tank that sits in a small trailer behind his four-wheeler and pumps it by hand it into their trough.

Nine days ago we had three inches in rain in 45 minutes. The massive rain cause major flash flooding in spots around the county, including through the local mall, flooding by run-off from the roads and parking lots uphill. The perils of hardscaping. I had nearly a foot of water in basement — not creek overflow, but backup because the sump pumps could not keep up with the rising ground water level, which was already saturated from  “above average” rainfall.

The hay field next door. © Patti Witten

Last year we had a so-called 100-year drought. Seven months of way below average rainfall, spring through the fall. This year, in some places corn and soybeans have wilted and rotted in the wet fields. But the grass is above average tall and if it stopes raining for a bit, farmers will have a chance to get it in.

Three days ago Ian mowed the pasture closest to my house on his 20-year old tractor. That’s not a bad age for a John Deere. He replaced a really ancient one with this one last year. But since he mowed the field he’s been racing to get it turned with the harrow and baled before the next round of thunderstorms and flash flood warnings. Yesterday, Ian started baling but I could hear him stopping the tractor every few minutes for some issue. He didn’t get very far and despite near perfect weather, he stopped baling at about 5pm.

This morning help arrived. With Ian driving and the helper walking behind the baler hitched to the tractor, they got it all baled. I was up on my ladder trying to clean the gutters, sweating in the humid air. I’d started that job yesterday, too, but had to quit because I ran into a hornets’ nest. (I was stung three times but did not fall off the ladder.) Some of the bales were a bit wonky, a little crazy-shaped. Some were curved into wide letter Us. Others were twisted like square slinky toys. But it got done.

At about three this afternoon I could hear Ian and his two older kids working to bring in the bales before this evening’s thunderstorms. They buzzed around the field loading 6-8 bales in the aforementioned trailer (minus water tank) behind the four-wheeler, ran them to the hay wagon, loaded the bales on the hay wagon, then rushed back to the field for more bales — wash, rinse, repeat. According the weather radar, the storms were slow-moving but intense, running in a line from southwest to northeast, from Corning to Ithaca. At 7 p.m. the dark sky was pierced by lightning and frequent thunder. The four-wheeler buzzed and voices shouted until the rain began.

My stomach was a mess of anxiety about these approaching storms for a different reason. I looked at the radar on my weather app showing huge clots of orange and red rain cores, trying to gauge if/when the deluge would hit. I had to do some talking to myself and breathing to calm down. I thought about the recent flood, knowing all too well that if we lost power the sump pump would not run and there was nothing to stop the basement from filling. I went down to the basement and moved the cat litter box and dehumidifier to what passes for high ground down there. I ran the worst case scenario: slow-moving storm, 3 inches of rain, flooded basement, another insurance claim, another round of fans and dehumidifies courtesy of a commercial water abatement company, pasting on my brave face, and surviving more turmoil and expense. Ugh!

So I thought instead about Ian and his family. About the bales of hay in danger of being soaked and ruined, become worthless due to mold. All that work for nothing. What must it be like to desire a farming life these days, even if it’s just a small place to raise your kids and keep goats and chickens? Maybe a few cows? Day jobs must fill the void. For many farm families, some things must be deferred in favor of the farm and equipment, maybe renovations to the house, or vacations, or new vehicles. Maybe more.

The storm caught up to us but fortunately just a glancing blow. No prolonged, drenching rain, no flood, no loss of power.

Now, a cool breeze is pushing it south and east, away to other towns, other farms. I hope they got the hay in and under cover. I hope there won’t be more storms tonight. I hope we can adjust to the new normal of weather extremes and enjoy this beautiful part of the world while it still resembles what we grew up with. Meanwhile, I’m watching the next line of storms heading this way, stretching from Detroit to Toronto.

As it moves east, the back of that storm line is lit by sunset with a diffuse, pink glow that slides into orange, then golden yellow as I watch. A rainbow stretches up to the base of the cloud and receding rain so that all you see are the two pillars touching the earth and a dome of color. Lightning arcs beneath it.

Sometimes the drama is behind you. Sometimes it is ahead.

July 23, 2017

sunset and rainbow
© Patti Witten | more photos at

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