By JOANNA BASTIAN
I tried to get an interesting story for you this week. I really did. But everyone in the lower valley is busy mowing hay.
People spoke with such gusto about “making hay” that I was intrigued – jealous, even. Everyone seemed to be having a bale of a good time. This “making hay” seemed worthy of further investigation.
The phrase “making hay” is rooted in the agricultural communities. “Making hay while the sun shines” is an English Tudor proverb originating in the 1500s. This sage (or hay) advice meant make the most of one’s opportunities while you have the chance. The proverb in its original old English spelling rolled out like this:
Whan the sunne shinth make hay. Whiche is to say.
Take time whan time cometh, lest time steale away.
Making hay while the sun shines is a three-step process: mow, dry, bale. First, check that the sun is shining. There needs to be at least three days of hot and dry weather so that the hay has time to completely dry before packing up into bales. If it is not completely dried out, moist hay when baled and stacked can spontaneously combust, making an uncomfortably hot day even hotter.
The mower blades must be set at the right height, high enough so that the plant has a healthy root system intact to grow again. Too low and the blades will cut into the dirt, sending gritty grains into the hay, and no one likes to eat dirt. Except for earthworms. And young children, particularly boys.
After the cut hay has been dried and raked up, it is ready for baling. Hay bales come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There are the tall stacks made popular in children’s storybooks, but those are not easily transportable, and needles tend to get hopelessly lost in them as well.
There are giant rolls which I imagine would make very nice sculptures, like the ones found here http://pinterest.com/4thnailforge/bale-art/.
The most common hay bales in the lower valley are the squares, which make excellent seating on hayrides and stack nicely into semi-truck sized rows. Back in the 1980s I was playing hide-and-seek with some friends around these large rectangular stacks of hay. My exciting escape and run along the top was cut short when I fell down a crevasse.
This was shortly after famous Baby Jessica fell down the well and was stuck for three days. I wondered if that would be my fate and if people would have to pass down peanut butter and jelly sandwiches tied to a string to sustain me. Five minutes later, to the great amusement of my friends, I emerged covered in hay.
There is so much hay cutting going on that the Methow Valley tourism council should consider a new festival. It could be called, “What the HAY!” Local artists could assemble hay bale sculptures, kids could get lost for hours in hay bale mazes. We could have a scarecrow fashion show and alfalfa- and clover-flavored ice cream. Or not.