Sometime in the middle of May, our hay field billows with grass and clover and dandelions. Bruce traipsed to the bottom of the field and sprayed thistles, what our county considers a noxious weed, so we clear them. Bruce said before chemicals the township cleared them from roadsides and his family was diligent about clearing them from fields. We also cleaned up cornstalks and mud that had flowed into the field from the neighbors during a torrential downpour. Meadowlarks flew up from our carriage when we drove Morgen through the field, something she relished because the grass and clover were as high as her mouth. She grabbed plenty.
“Make hay when the sun shines” is a euphemism that rings true because a week of sunny, dry days can flip into rain and humidity faster than you can spit. Hay that’s rained on loses nutrition. Wet hay can heat up and burn down a barn. It also molds, something horses can’t eat. We had a week or so of dry days, so our hay guy, dropped our hay. His haybine looked like it was pouring a waterfall of grass back into the field. The machine moved quickly.
The days ticked by, no hay guy, and I worried we’d run out of sunny days. I felt like Jonah upset about his shady vine that dried up, only this was our crop, hay laid down when the weather has been abnormally dry and we might not get another crop this summer. We’re talking Morgen’s winter meals. We’re talking something that feels as creative as a poem. I waited for him to rake like I used to wait by the phone when I had an agent, hoping she’d sold my novel. Finally the forecasters predicted rain. And our hay guy’s father rolled in with a giant wheel rake, flipping streams of hay into windrows.
(Our hay guy runs his own business and like many young farmers, runs a few cattle and bales hay on the side. Harvesting hay in between clients demands, family demands, and those tricky sunny windows has to be quite the juggling contest.)
But still I fretted, worrier that I am. It’s easy for me to go to a dark place, to feel rejected, especially when I’ve been running as fatigued as I’ve been lately, where even driving the horse is an act of the will, though once we start circling the fields, hearing the creak of the carriage and seeing the wide sky, how it’s different each day, I feel refreshed. Something about Morgen’s joy in sharing time with us, her walking, washes the fatigue.
The week earlier I participated in a prayer class, where Brad Jersak suggested ways to listen to God. He said that God is generous, he wants us to hear his voice–the my sheep hear my voice and follow me bit. He suggested we go to a place where we meet God. The barn, that’s where I met Jesus, in the form of Morgen, who stood by as I once sobbed my prayers, clearing pain like a farrier cleans out an abscess in a horse’s foot. Morgen waits at the gate for me and takes pleasure in her back being scratched.
Give Jesus your burden. My burden? Oh I know. My distractibility like a sparkler.
In my imagination, I gave it to Morgen who took it in her mouth and shook it and bucked into the other side of the paddock and trotted back to me, nodding her head like she would rather have a hay cube.. She stood with pricked ears. I can give it to her any time I need to put down my distractions and go to work. I can also set Focus Timer on my phone.
When we saw the hay guy park a wagon at the bottom of the field we pulled the elevator out, opened the gates and locked Morgen on the other side of the barn. Bruce has figured out how to winch it up because it’s too much for us to lift. We don’t want to ask our neighbors to help with this. We waited. After dark, after the moon swung high, we lowered it, wheeled it beside the barn, and set up the fence because Morgen needed her stall.
The next day I swear I saw an angel skipping alongside me kicking corn stalks and leaves as I walked the dogs. Omalola likes to dive for leaves, chase them, take them in her mouth. Maybe she’s reaching for the angel’s arm or leg, like she reaches for mine when she’s wound. Then we drove to town for groceries and more bully sticks for the dogs.
When we drove past our neighbor’s farm we saw a cow with her legs straight up, not moving, looking stone cold dead. Then we saw she was barely breathing and a nose was sticking out her behind. Bruce got out of the car to look. We drove back to our neighbor’s house and told his wife there was a cow in distress. She called her husband and Bruce walked in the cattle yard to help. I stayed back, behind the car, but decided I didn’t want to miss the pictures. He cleared the mucous out of the calf’s nose and tore the birth sak away from its front. He pulled. The calf finally slid out. I was grateful the cows were tame and didn’t attack him. (Mama cows can be surly with strangers around their babies.)
Our neighbor thanked Bruce and we were on our way. That evening our hay guy began baling hay. My heart lifted up like it did when the angel kicked leaves alongside the dogs and I. He pulled off two wagon loads, one for him and one for us and left.
This dark place I go to. I long to go home to be with the Lord but I am home with him. He is as close to me as breath. And the world is full of his hand print, full of mystery and marvels. But still I want to die. It’s a desire that rises up, that I probably should not admit. Except as we worked on off loading our wagon load of hay, I realized that might not be such a bad desire because “if you die before you die, you won’t die when you die.” Maybe that’s what this world weariness is telling me. Maybe I should lean into self denial, answering a friend’s message even though I’m heading to bed, walking past the candy jar.
Bruce backed the tractor to the tongue of the wagon, lifted it and dropped the fat pin through the holes. The wagon jerked forward. I felt like a kid catching a ride, my legs hanging over the edge. I watched the sunset.
Bruce stacked hay in the the barn and I pulled bales off the wagon, climbed off it, to set them on the elevator. Then I climbed back on the wagon, setting my knee on the wood and pulling myself up. I reached for bales, and pulled them within reach, for when I loaded them onto the elevator. Then I hopped down and set them on the track going into the barn. Bruce counted 105 bales.
I realized that my longing to die might be onto something. While my fingers curled around blue strings binding hay bales, I realized that the way to life is dying to our desires. This generous God who wants to tell us things told me more about what how wanting to die, has to do with taking up my cross, denying myself.. And this longing to die, that I dare not admit, has a wisdom to it. A few days later I listened to Jonathan Pageau’s podcast, My Most Anti Symbolic Talk-Teh Quest for a Spiritual Home Conference about how we will always be disappointed, how this is the way the world works. Basically he said we need to die to things, let go of our grasp on them, let go of our not wanting things to change, or tight hold on people we love. But we get them back in little resurrections, even better than if we’d clenched our fists around them. That is the nature of the world.
The next day the weather forecast predicted spotty showers, so there was a chance they’d miss us. A tractor and baler sat in the field. Our hay guy said the baler repairman needed our address. I gave it to him. The repair guys pulled in next to the baler and then left. We found out the new baler had broken in each of four fields as the hay guy worked through his crop.
Later that afternoon, I heard a soft hum under the sound of our air conditioner. I looked out the window and saw the tractor and baler were pooping bales on the ground. Two repair trucks were in the field. I woke Bruce from his nap. We pulled out our tractor to hitch an empty hay wagon and pick up the bales. We both walked to each bale and hoisted them onto the wagon. The Kubota pulled forward. We jumped off and picked up more bales. It felt good to push my body past fatigue. Radar showed showers moving south to north. We didn’t have much time. So much drama around hay and rain.
We pulled up next to the corn crib and tarped the wagon as the rain started falling. Later that evening we loaded 62 bales in the barn. Bruce salted the wet spots were rain got through. There were several windrows that didn’t get picked up, but we were grateful for the 162 bales that would stand us in good stead if the drought continues. That evening I walked out and saw the moon through leaves and a lightning bug in the barn and my body ached, a good ache.
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