I post this blog with a cozy nostalgia for last week’s temperatures, and shout out to all the people in power still working to destroy our planet for profit – climate change will kill you too 😘
I don’t know what the temperature is, but it’s hot. It’s really hot. This morning, dad has been turning over the hay in the middle field, the top part of it. He’s putting new springs on the hay bobber. I’m not sure if I made that name up or that’s what the machine attached to the tractor is called. He’s behind it, with a hammer and a ratchet, quietly working away. It’s too hot for unnecessary movement or noise.
I wonder how the flies do it, they’re the most energetic things out here. I’ve already swatted one horsefly. I’m risking more attacks by wearing shorts, but it’s too hot for jeans. The sun is moving around and my right leg is in it.
I move, and there’s, under the quiet sounds of life around, an almost silent sound of the hay, bouncing slowly up again.
A concentrated breeze caresses the slope of the opposite field not yet cut, and the meadow ripples softly, upwards and inwards like it’s all bowing to one of the trees past the fence line. Earlier, after I’d chased a ewe lamb back into the right field, we picked up bundles of hay with yellow rattle in it, re-distributed it in other parts of the field, so next year, there’ll be more of it. A cricket strikes up its rattle intermittently to join the squabbly birdsong and drone of the flies and the occasional bee.
A tiny yellow insect dashes over the page. It’s smaller than a comma, with antennae and two warm eyes. I brush a hair from my face and can’t see it again.
The ewes look better for their haircuts, fresh and smooth and less weighted down. The boys don’t suit it as well. The tup looks out of proportion, his head is too big for his body, and loses the handsome charm his face has when it’s surrounded by a mane of fleece. A black, jumpy spider hops over the page. I’ll have to move again, in a minute.
After dad’s success fixing the new springs onto the hay bob machine yesterday, he invited me up after lunch to “take a photo” of his nice neat lines of hay in the field. Planning to come back down with plenty of time to finish my drawing in the afternoon, I walked up to the farm.
I have not finished my drawing.
I walked up through the yard, keeping an eye open for the partridge and her big brood of chicks. They bumble along, fuzzy blobs after their mother when they an be spotted between the weeds. I see dad by the barn at the back and head past, up to the field, to see the stripes , up and down and around at the top, ready for the baler. I take one photo on my phone and turn, thinking, job done, I’ll go and get on with the drawing.
Dad hooks the baler up to the tractor. They’re both second-hand and look like they’ve served many years on whatever farm they previously lived on. I follow them up the track and into the field – dad wants me to take more pictures, and I can’t remember seeing haymaking this close-up since I was a child.
Dad attaches the shaft that turns the thing in the trailer from the tractor, and goes back to the cab to pull a lever. A rhythmic, hollow clunking begins, loud up-close. I wonder how the noise will change when it’s full of hay. He shouts, tells me to keep my toes out of the way, and pulls off, aligning with a row of hay, piled by him and the hay-bobber this morning. I follow with my phone, taking photos and wondering when the first bale will come out of the chute, and how the machine actually works. The first few bits are lumps of semi-organised hay chucked out of the back, until there’s a good volume of cut grass and wildflowers going through.
Two lengths of orange baler twine emerge from a box on the right-hand side, running under the beginning of the rectangular enclosure that the bales will build up in. Somehow, the two strands are pulled around the bale, paralell to one another, lengthwise, and tied in a neat knot. It also, for each knot made, produces a short length of twine roughly one and a half inches in length. These either get trapped against the bale, or are blown away in the wind. I begin picking them up, pocketing them as I go.
If you’ve not come across bailer twine before, here’s an introduction.
It’s essentially string, but for cost purposes (I assume), and the quantities required to tie two lengths around each rectangular bale, plus, (I suppose) its resistance to damp and rot and small mammals, it’s made of plastic. (To be honest, I’ve not done much research on the ins and outs of it, I’ve been too busy picking bits of it up.)
I don’t mean nice plastic string like you get at the supermarket middle-aisle or DIY shop, all neat and braided and tidy; this stuff is hard, wiry, and despite its strength and versatility, feels like it’s already disintegrating. It’s barely spun, with a tiny number of twists running through it. That means, that while it’ll be simpler to make, it will literally fall apart. If you tried to knit it, it would split and be uncooperative. When cut into any length shorter than a couple of metres, it frays. Strands of extruded plastic peel off in the breeze, and float away, to become an irretrievable part of the environment.
There’s a sisal alternative that’s of course, more expensive, and I hope that when these rolls run out, we’ll get that instead. I think it’s something to do with how the knot is tied that makes the little offcuts, so it’s probably cheaper to change the twine instead of the baler.
I once found a book about baler twine in the gift shop of Blair Castle, Perthshire. This ubiquitous countryside material is so abundant in scrappy pieces in pockets, there was seemingly a need to come up with new ways to use it. From belts (although go ask a few farmers, that’s not a very original one), to dog leads, to toys and trinkets and novelties, this book had photos of all the ideas of things you can make with just a few lengths of colourful bailer twine.
By my chair leg, as I’m writing, on the floor of the kitchen is the remains of one of these tails. It’s split, into two distinct parts, and is fraying and mixing with cat hair and crumbs from the table.
I jog up the slope of the field, from bale to bale, picking the orange sprigs out, leaping over the lines of hay waiting for us to reach them. Once he’s done a row and came back down another, sometimes the bales need to be rolled away from the next line, out of the way of the tractor’s tyres or the baler’s comb.
I’m surprised that while it’s dusty, it’s not unbearably so. On one run back downhill I’m covering my mouth with my t-shirt, and a log wagon drives along the opposite side of the valley, it kicks up clouds of white dust from the road so big it could have been a steam train passing through, taking minutes to settle, or be blown away by the hot breeze.
I’m getting tired. We’ve been at this for hours, and there must be a more efficient way to do it, a direction or a plan. Bales keep getting pooped out of the machine, I clomp up and down following them.
When we’re done, and the field is now full of shredded-wheat blocks, I follow the tractor back down the field. Swallows, or swifts, or martens? I think they’re probably swallows, swoop and dart around and between our bales, like we’ve made a new playground for them. They play and I stagger back to the house.
Thanks for reading my blog! If you’d like to support me in keeping it free from those disgusting earwax adverts, please do consider buying me a coffee (paying me £3) via the links at the top or bottom of this page👂🤢😘
Visit the Blair Castle Gift Shop’s web page here (if you’re up there next Saturday, do pop in to the open day at the Blair Atholl international Scout Jamborette)