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Putting up hay

Today I spent most of the day at nearby farm helping them to put up hay. It has been warm, sunny days, so cut hay dried by itself on the field. The farmer drove a tractor with a machine making small bales of dry hay - about 10kg of hay per bale. One of the farm workers drove another tractor towing a big cart. I was walking on the field with couple of other workers, and using hay forks we threw the bales into the cart. On the cart there was another team of workers, who stacked the bales. As the stack grew bigger, we had to reach higher and higher to get the bales up. Finally the shaft of the fork was not enough, we literally threw the bales upwards, and the others caught them in the mid-air with their forks. To succesfully do this it was essential to have a smooth co-operation in between the two teams. We on the field had to follow how the other team is doing on top of the stack, throwing bales only when they were ready to catch. And this was mostly communicated with body language, a brief eye contact and synchronized movements.

When we were about to have a coffee break, my cell phone rang. It was my cousin and his wife, they were on a holiday trip, driving a car and they asked if they can stop at my place for coffee. Sure! So, when the others went to the farmhouse for coffee I headed back home - thinking to myself that the electric stove is out of electricity, and I have nearly no food at home. No problem, first I started a fire, poured a lot of vegetable oil in a kettle and placed the kettle on fire. I took all the potatoes I had and cut them to fingers, and tossed them into the kettle. I took a smaller kettle and filled it with water for coffee. And at that point the guests arrived. We had a nice chat, and soon the food was ready - homemade french fries and black coffee. I like this kind of spontaneous events - friends just popping in on a short notice, improvised food, and a bit funny mixture of USA-style fast food and primitive cooking. Well, the guests continued onwards, without yet knowing where to go next. They said they will plan as they drive. And I guess this is one of the best ways of enjoying a holiday trip.

I went back to the farm, and we kept on working till the evening. Sun was shining on a blue sky, at 8 pm it was still pretty warm and everybody was slowly wearing tired. We were youngsters, young adults, and couple of men somewhat older than I am. People of different backgrounds, different levels of education and skills. But here on the field we were all equally contributing towards the common task, all equally tired, all together reading the body language of others to keep the work running smoothly. And this is one of the aspects I love in the agrarian life. When they day was done we had 2000 bales collected. Returning from the farm I realized that it is friday. I mean, if I weren't self-employed, I propably couldn't have spent the day working at the hay field. And this is might be bit of a problem in the contemporary countryside - sometimes you need extra help for a day or two, but it isn't easy to find workforce as all the active people are anyway working someplace else... So, I'm happy to have my freedom so that I can sometimes contribute to my neighbourhood.

I have spent many summers of my life working on hay field bit more traditional way. There was this small farm house, run by a single man in his fifties. He didn't use a baling machine. If it was a long period of good weather he could cut the hay and let it dry on the field. Then we just collected the loose hay and drove it into barns. But if there were infrequent rain showers (which is very typical for Finnish summer weather), we put the loose hay on poles. That way the hay will eventually dry even if there are rainy days. It is just a lot more work, first putting the hay on the poles, and then taking it from the poles into a barn. Some years it took more than three weeks of work to get all the hay into barns. There would be countless stories to tell about those summers, but I'll pick just one; it had been good weather, and we were collecting loose hay from the field, taking it into a barn. Then the weather changed, we heard thunder rumbling in the distance. We all knew that rain falling on already dried loose hay would just ruin the hay, so we'd better get it all inside a barn before the thunder storm arrives. Nobody was talking, we just worked as quick as we could. We heard thunder coming nearer and nearer, and the work became harder and harder as the barn was nearly full. Finally I was standing on top of the stacked hay, and my friend was on the ground. Using his hay fork he threw the hay upwards, I caught it and stacked it. Our moves were fully synchronized, we were moving like a single organism, which enabled us to work fast and efficient. We got all the hay inside the barn and went indoors to have coffee. While we were drinking coffee it started to rain heavily.

I have often been thinking about this kind of bodily synchronization, a feeling of connection. And all the ways our western tradition silently teaches us not to be connected. I mean, like kids sitting at their desks in the class room - when I was a school kid, most of the time we were supposed to concentrate on our workbooks, or listening to the teacher, only speaking when given a permission to do so. Too much interaction with us kids was seen as disorder which had to be corrected. Contact and communication was just leisure for the breaks in between lessons, otherwise we were taught that serious work is about separate individuals working alone in their bubbles. Well, of course there were things like sports and school plays - but many of these came with either competitive setting, or a ready-made plan to be followed in a controlled manner. So where was the deep feeling of spontaneously moving, playing and working together, movements synchronized, intentions communicated with body languege? I guess it was hidden somewhere, to be found.

Well, enough of this intellectual reflection on bodily presence. I'll go heat up the sauna =)

he is stacking the bales
he is stacking the bales
463 users have voted.


2000 bales of hay. At 10kg per bale, that means 20 tons of hay. If we assume the ground workers throwing the bales up to the trucks were 5, that means that 4 tons of hay were lifted by each of you at a height over your heads, while under the sun and walking around. That sounds brutal. I think i maybe had lasted to 2 tons and i am much younger. How did you feel afterwards?

It's a foreign concept to believe that neighbors would help you without seeking compensation. In the American city, you'd be thankful if they cleaned up the filth in front of their houses, let alone help you clean a playground or plant a tree.

I picked up a book called Hagakure the other day. In essence, it's the notes of a distinguished and wise scholar-samurai. I've only began reading it, but something to the effect of "The calculating man will always lose when they think too much" My neighbors sit around and wonder what cleaning and helping others will do for them. They weigh the costs and benefits and ultimately pick the logical decision to spend their time as they please, instead of jumping up and joining in on a unpredictable adventure to break the repetitive days with physical and mental satisfaction.

For me just the good atmosphere and experience of working together would have been enough of a reward. But the farmer gave me a load of bales as well.

Tsambo, in the evening I felt exhausted and happy, but the following day I needed to take it slowly and to recover.


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