Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

The joys of making hay
& knowing the land


When I was a kid, my brother and I did the haying, mostly by ourselves. Each morning we'd head out into the fields with the tractors and go until we'd broken something beyond our very limited ability to repair.

Our dad was working full-time (and more) at his off-farm business, but each evening he'd return to a yard-full of cracked knives, bent tines, and flat tires. He'd spend well into the night patching up what we'd managed to break. Looking back, I don't know how he did it all.

One of things I liked best about haying was mowing -- getting up before sunrise, grabbing a slice of bread thick with jam and a glass of milk, greasing up the mowing machine, and starting around a field of timothy heavy with dew. Sometimes the sun would hit the flowering heads of the grass at just the right angle to see the pollen puff up in the cool morning air as the mower blade sliced through the sward.

The bobolinks sputtered madly at you as they rose from the grass and you'd watch with a raptor's eye for the nests of the little, short-necked cranes down in the thick clover and give them a wide berth.

Traveling around and around those fields, year after year, you got to know the lay of the land with a kind of intimacy that I now see as one of the great pleasures of farming life. The wet spots waiting to suck your tractor down into spinning impotence. The ridges of slate and shale lying in ambush for your plough points. The side hills that were scary but safe and the slopes that would be better left to pasture.

Now, even though I've lived half my life on this Quebec farm in Hatley, I don't know it nearly as well as my father's place in Milby. My own work has taken me off the farm and the field work is done by neighbors who rent the land. They do a much more efficient and effective job of it than I could. And, unlike my father, I don't have the skills or the energy to work all night fixing the machinery that got busted during the day.

I walk a lot over the land. But walking it and working it aren't the same thing at all.

The wisdom of farmers is tied to the land in this way, to knowing the character of a piece of land as well as an attentive father knows his child or a skilled hunter knows his prey.

It's a wisdom I once had, but now I've lost.

Speaking of the wisdom of farmers, I've always had a great respect for the Quebec Farmers' Association and its work in rural communities across this province. Here in Stanstead County, the QFA does particularly good work with young people.

The organization's leaders are smart and they bring a level-headed, common sense approach to the table when issues of language and politics are being discussed. I support them 100 percent. Somewhere along the way I let my membership in the QFA slip, but I intend to join up again.

And finally, a stinging nettle update. As mean and nasty as the nettle is, Mother Nature always seems ready to outdo herself in the competition to be the toughest organism on the block.

My patch of stinging nettles suddenly looked wilted this week. On close inspection, a plague of gray caterpillars had descended on it and was eating everything right down to the prickly stems.

So much for chemical weapons as an arsenal of deterrence.

Royal Orr is a freelance writer and broadcaster living in Hatley.

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