Haying Time by Hamlin Garland
Haying was the one season of farm work which the boys thoroughly
enjoyed. It usually began on the tame meadows about the twenty-fifth
of June, and lasted a week or so. It had always appealed to
Lincoln, in a distinctly beautiful and poetic sense, which was not
true of the main business of farming. Most of the duties through which
he passed needed the lapse of years to seem beautiful in his eyes, but
haying had a charm and significance quite out of the common.
At this time the summer was at its most exuberant stage of vitality,
and it was not strange that even the faculties of toiling old men,
dulled and deadened with never ending drudgery, caught something of
exultation from the superabundant glow and throb of Nature's life.
The corn fields, dark green and sweet-smelling, rippled like a sea
with a multitudinous stir and sheen and swirl. Waves of dusk and green
and yellow circled across the level fields, while long leaves upthrust
at intervals like spears or shook like guidons. The trees were in
heavy leaf, insect life was at its height, and the air was filled with buzzing, dancing forms and with the sheen of innumerable gauzy
The air was shaken by most ecstatic voices. The bobolinks sailed and
sang in the sensuous air, now sinking, now rising, their exquisite
notes ringing, filling the air like the chimes of tiny silver bells.
The kingbird, ever alert and aggressive, cried out sharply as he
launched from the top of a poplar tree upon some buzzing insect, and
the plover made the prairie sad with his wailing call. Vast
purple-and-white clouds moved like bellying sails before the lazy
wind, dark with rain, which they dropped momentarily like trailing
garments upon the earth, and so passed on in stately measure with a
roll of thunder.
The grasshoppers moved in clouds with snap and buzz, and out of the
luxurious stagnant marshes came the ever thickening chorus of the
toads and the frogs, while above them the kildees and the snipe
shuttled to and fro in sounding flight, and the blackbirds on the
cattails and willows swayed with lifted throats, uttering their subtle
liquid notes, made mad with delight of the sun and their own music.
And over all and through all moved the slow, soft west wind, laden
with the breath of the far-off prairie lands of the west, soothing and
hushing and filling the world with a slumbrous haze.
The weather in haying time was glorious, with only occasional showers
to accentuate the splendid sunlight. There were no old men and no
women in these fields. The men were young and vigorous, and their
action was swift and supple. Sometimes it was hot to the danger point,
especially on the windless side of the stack (no one had haybarns in
those days) and sometimes the pitcher complained of cold chills
running up his back. Sometimes Jack flung a pail full of water over
his head and shoulders before beginning to unload, and seemed the
better for it. Mr. Stewart kept plenty of "switchel" (which is
composed of ginger and water) for his hands to drink. He had a notion
that it was less injurious than water or beer, and no sun strokes
occurred among his men.
Once, one hot afternoon, the air took on an oppressive density, the
wind died away almost to a calm, blowing fitfully from the south,
while in the far west a vast dome of inky clouds, silent and
portentous, uplifted, filling the horizon, swelling like a great
bubble, yet seeming to have the weight of a mountain range in its
mass. The birds, bees, and all insects, hitherto vocal, suddenly sank
into silence, as if awed by the first deep mutter of the storm. The
mercury is touching one hundred degrees in the shade.
All hands hasten to get the hay in order, that it may shed rain. They
hurry without haste, as only adept workmen can. They roll up the
windrows by getting fork and shoulder under one end, tumbling it over
and over endwise, till it is large enough; then go back for the
scatterings, which are placed, with a deft turn of the fork, on the
top to cap the pile. The boys laugh and shout as they race across the
field. Every man is wet to the skin with sweat; hats are flung aside;
Lincoln, on the rake, puts his horse to the trot. The feeling of the
struggle, of racing with the thunder, exalts him.
Nearer and nearer comes the storm, silent no longer. The clouds are
breaking up. The boys stop to listen. Far away is heard the low,
steady, crescendo, grim roar; intermixed with crashing thunderbolts,
the rain streams aslant, but there is not yet a breath of air from the
west; the storm wind is still far away; the toads in the marsh, and
the fearless king-bird, alone cry out in the ominous gloom cast by the
rolling clouds of the tempest.
"Look out! here it comes!" calls the boss. The black cloud melts to
form the gray veil of the falling rain, which blots out the plain as
it sweeps on. Now it strikes the corn-field, sending a tidal wave
rushing across it. Now it reaches the wind-break, and the spire-like
poplars bow humbly to it. Now it touches the hay-field, and the caps
of the cocks go flying; the long grass streams in the wind like a
woman's hair. In an instant the day's work is undone and the hay is
opened to the drenching rain.
As all hands rush for the house, the roaring tempest rides upon them
like a regiment of demon cavalry. The lightning breaks forth from the
blinding gray clouds of rain. As Lincoln looks up he sees the streams
of fire go rushing across the sky like the branching of great red
trees. A moment more, and the solid sheets of water fall upon the
landscape, shutting it from view, and the thunder crashes out, sharp
and splitting, in the near distance, to go deepening and bellowing off
down the illimitable spaces of the sky and plain, enlarging, as it
goes, like the rumor of war.
In the east is still to be seen a faint crescent of the sunny sky,
rapidly being closed in as the rain sweeps eastward; but as that
diminishes to a gleam, a similar window, faint, watery, and gray,
appears in the west, as the clouds break away. It widens, grows
yellow, and then red; and at last blazes out into an inexpressible
glory of purple and crimson and gold, as the storm moves swiftly over.
The thunder grows deeper, dies to a retreating mutter, and is lost.
The clouds' dark presence passes away. The trees flame with light, the
robins take up their songs again, the air is deliciously cool. The
corn stands bent, as if still acknowledging the majesty of the wind.
Everything is new-washed, clean of dust, and a faint, moist odor of
green things fills the air.
Lincoln seizes the opportunity to take Owen's place in bringing the
cattle, and mounting his horse gallops away. The road is wet and
muddy, but the prairie is firm, and the pony is full of power. In full
flower, fragrant with green grass and radiant with wild roses,
sweet-williams, lilies, pinks, and pea-vines, the sward lies new
washed by the rain, while over it runs a strong, cool wind from the
west. The boy's heart swells with unutterable joy of life. The world
is exaltingly beautiful. It is good to be alone, good to be a boy, and
to be mounted on a swift horse.