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 in Dryden. Dana and Carol were high school sweethearts. Now they are in their mid-thirties with three kids. Dana 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 keeps a few critters, dogs, and a cat. He has had 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 horses and not enough pasture, plus she broke her arm, so Dana 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 he pumps the water by hand into their trough.

It’s late July. Nine days ago we had three inches in rain in 45 minutes. It caused major flash flooding in spots around the county, including rushing through the local mall, runoff from the roads and parking lots uphill — the peril of a hard-scaped commercial center. I had nearly a foot of water in the basement, not creek overflow, but because the sump pumps could not keep up with the rising groundwater level in soil already saturated from “above average” rainfall this summer.

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 stops raining for a bit, farmers will have a chance to get in the hay.


Three days ago Dana mowed the pasture closest to my house on his 20-year old tractor. That’s not a bad age for a John Deere. It replaced a really ancient one last year. But since he mowed the field Dana has been struggling to get the cut hay turned with the harrow and baled before the next round of thunderstorms and flash flood warnings. Yesterday, he 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, and he stopped baling well before sunset.

This morning help arrived. With Dana driving and the helper walking behind the baler hitched to the tractor, they got it all done. 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.) Dana’s bales were a bit wonky, a little crazy-shaped. Some were curved into wide letter Us. Others were twisted like square slinky toys.

At about three in the afternoon Dana and his two older kids worked fast to bring in the bales before the evening 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 to weather radar, the storms heading our way 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. On my weather app, I looked at the 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 slow 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. In the basement I moved the cat’s litter box and the dehumidifier to what passes for high ground down there. There wasn’t anything else to move that hadn’t already been ruined in the previous flood. 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 Dana 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 steers? Day jobs must fill the void. Everything must be deferred in favor of the farm and equipment, including needed renovations to the house, vacations away, new vehicles. Three kids under 12, the youngest less than a year old.

The storm caught up to us but fortunately just a glancing blow. No prolonged, drenching rain, no flood, no loss of power. Other people had flooded basements, ruined hay, no power, and stress.

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 in a line stretching from Detroit to Toronto. Sunset is lighting up the back of that storm line in the east with a diffuse, pink glow that slides into orange and golden yellow as I watch. A rainbow stretches up to the base of the cloud and receding rain so that all you see are two curved pillars touching the earth and a dome of color suspended between. Lightning arcs beneath it.

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

Photos © Patti Witten | more photos at