Hay for the Horses

A lovely little poem in Gary Snyder’s 1959 book Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems, “Hay for the Horses, begins like this:

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
behind the barn.

I was thinking about this poem one evening last week when a tightly-packed hay wagon arrived in the evening. As it happened, Nathaniel and Ellinore, and Ellie’s friend Sophie, were ready and we spent the next three hours unloading the wagon and stacking the bales in the lofts and outside the barn door. The poem captures some of what we were feeling:

With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
sweaty shirt and shoes.

“Itch of haydust” and the “sweaty shirt and shoes” indeed. Though we had not winch nor rope nor hook. Our project was sheer joy at work and adolescent persistence: Sophie and Ellinore high on the wagon tossing bales, Nathaniel throwing bales into the barn and Mark lifting up to Rebecca in the loft.

Triumph before the unloading begins

We cleared the wagon by ten and then all ran down to the pond, stripped off our sweaty and itchy clothes and jumped in grateful for the cool, cleansing water. Snyder’s poem ends differently, of course:

At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
—The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds—
“I’m sixty-eight” he said,
“I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that’s just what
I’ve gone and done.”

Having lived in the Sierra I can feel the scene Snyder captures in these final lines; and having walked mountain trails with horsemen I can feel the willing confession and the wry sense of resignation of the hay bucker in the poem. Here in the Northeast, it is heat and humidity and frogs as the second cut of hay comes in.

Not something we would choose to do every day, but if you look closely you can see Sophie and Ellinore's smiles

A long spell of hot, dry weather and “hayin’” is happening all around us. Bill comes by with a Haiku he thought as he pulled hundreds of bails into another barn. And as soon as we rake the loose sweet-smelling hay, and pack the final bales into the loft, Robbie arrives with another hundred bales we will need to unload by the following morning.

Two hundred and sixty bales are no match for a motivated thirteen year old boy

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