by Ralph Rice
The hay lies in swaths neatly clipped by the horse-drawn mower. The
scent of newly mown hay drifts on the wind. A gentle breeze caresses the
remaining hay still standing. The swaying grass looks like an ocean, the heads
of the blooming timothy forming whitecaps on this sea of green.Ralph Rice's column "Reflections"
appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column appeared in the
So starts yet another haying season. The grass is cut, then dried by
the sun and wind. As the hay cures the field comes to life. Under the swaths of
hay mice seek out succulent seeds for their young. Snakes search for
seed-hunting mice. Overhead a pair of red-tailed hawks hunt for a tasty snack.
Other birds dart about feasting on bugs. Crows hop around the field, scattering
horse droppings. The cycle of life is before my eyes right here in the hayfield.
The next morning dawns through a misty fog. The sun quickly burns its
way through the fog, but not before I catch a glimpse of a white-tailed doe and
her new fawn escaping from the hayfield into the woods.
Our horses stand quiet while I hitch them to the rake. They seem to
appreciate the absence of flies that buzz and bite this early in the season.
They watch the birds and enjoy the warm sun on their massive bodies while I
grease the hay rake's bearings.
Riding on the rake's seat I survey the hayfield and our farm. The
horses walk along easily, as round after round the swaths of yesterday are
turned into fluffy windrows to finish curing in the sun. The horses know where
to step to make the rake work at its maximum efficiency. I merely guide them
around the field, listen to the rake chatter and click, and ponder the wonder of
A mother skunk, followed by three cute kits, scampers away from the
noisy rake, disturbed from their dinner of earthworms. I respectfully admire the
family hurrying to the safety of the woods. The new little critters' fur is
shiny black and pristine white. They trot obediently behind their mother, tails
We reach the end of the swaths drying in the sun. I unhook from the
rake and drive the horses to the mowing machine. We will mow another third of
this field. I mow about three acres at a time, an amount that is manageable for
my antique equipment and me.
Mowing this next section I see the life cycle repeat itself. Birds
come in flocks to pick through the newly clipped hay, helping keep the insect
population in check. The mice continue their scampering underneath the hay.
We mow the last round as the sun drops toward the west. I unhook from
the mower and head the horses toward the barn, cool water, and dinner. Overhead
the pair of red-tailed hawks circles the hayfield in search of prey.
The setting sun casts long shadows of my two friends and me. Walking
across the field to the barn, I sing to them. I am satisfied with today's work
and grateful for my horses. As we pass the pond, barn swallows dart and dive to
catch an evening snack. Later in the evening they will be replaced by
mosquito-eating bats. I marvel at the swift movements and fast turns that allow
them to grab dinner out of the air.
For a brief second I catch our
reflection on the pond's shimmering water. The image of man and horses reminds
me of a snapshot of my grandpa walking with his team. I remember his smile as he
moved easily behind his pair of good horses, the trio in perfect tune with each
other. I feel his hands on mine as I grip the lines. I look down at the leather
threaded through my fingers, just as he taught me, and realize that I, too, am
part of the cycle of life.
My young son runs up and asks if he can put the horses in the barn. I
stop the team and start to show him how to lace the lines in his fingers, but
then I realize he already knows how. He speaks to the horses with a soft yet
commanding voice. Their heads come up and they step off toward the barn. He
drives them like someone much older than himself. I watch them disappear into
the barn, the perfect close of a perfect day.