Saturday, July 15, 2006

After All, This Is What You Asked For

It’s 7:30 in the evening, the sun hasn’t even set (although the house is submerged in a pool of cool dusk), and I’m almost dizzy with exhaustion (and a little with wine). K&A must be made of steel, because 30 minutes ago they took off to drive to Seattle, to attend a family birthday party tomorrow afternoon. They’ll be driving back here tomorrow night. In the last three days we’ve put up almost 8,000 pounds of hay.

Several months ago Ian told me he would be attending a conference in New Orleans from 12-18 July; recently, this seemed to me to be the perfect opportunity to head back to Jerome Creek, this time while K&A were home. I thought that if they were around to deal with attack mares, missing cats, broken gates and escapee neighbor horses, maybe I could slough off some of the emotional scars from my visit in May. “Give me some hard work,” I requested. K took me at my word.

Maybe two years ago, K took advantage of my visit to load some hay into the loft. Horses eat a lot, something like 20 pounds of hay per horse per day in the winter. Fortunately, these horses have close to 80 acres to graze on so they don’t have to be fed hay throughout much of the year. Still, I bucked maybe 40 40-60 pound bales, from the back of the pickup onto the rattling hay elevator. I like bucking hay—it’s hard physical labor, but it’s clean and finite and the hardness is distinctly satisfying.

I suspected, more and more the closer I got to the Palouse this time and the more hay trucks I saw on the roads heading west, that I would be spending at least an hour or two heaving around bales.

Uh, yeah.

So a rundown of my trip to date:

Wednesday: arrive 4:30pm, drop my bags, immediately take Shadow, Spackle and Marlee out for a long ride.

Thursday: up at 7:00 with the dogs (and the gravel trucks racing up the JC road to the Potlatch road because, yes, there’s going to be more logging). Mid-morning, drive to the hay field to load up the truck. Yes, folks, we even picked up our own hay. This involved A. driving the pickup in compound low from bale to bale, me heaving them up (remember, 40-60 pounds) to the tailgate, at least four feet off the ground, and K stacking them in the truck. I think we brought home two loads of about 25 bales each. To unload, A. and I stood in/by the pickup and loaded bales onto the elevator; K stood in the loft and stacked them as they tumbled off. To make our job more interesting, the bales were mostly very poor. That is, the hay is excellent, but the baling was far less than mediocre. We’ve all gotten very good at finessing 50-pound prickly, wiggly, bendy less-than-cubes and only lost maybe 5 (which merely means the hay is already loose, not really lost). Around 4:00 I collected Sikem and went off for a ride with Marlee, checking out the extent to which the beautiful old overgrown logging roads have been graded and widened to make way for dusty clear cuts. In the evening, we had a birthday party for one of the members of On Golden Pond Tours, who were traveling in France and Spain while I was here in May.

Friday: up at 7:00 with the dogs. By 9:00, leaving to load more hay, this time with a flatbed trailer. A., to get her exercise, loaded from the field onto the trailer while I drove and K stacked; we then unhooked the trailer and loaded the pickup (A. driving again). We then unloaded the pickup, then loaded it again, then unloaded, then had lunch, then loaded again and unloaded, then loaded and collected the trailer, then came home (there may have been one fewer loading and unloading . . . but really, by this time it had become a way of life. Another form of breathing. Something you ceased to notice except by its absence). A. went off to work at the Palouse library for a few hours, K had a meeting, I took Toby and Spackle and Kit (Marlee is a little limpy in her left front foot) for a ride. I arrived home about the same time K did and we unloaded the trailer and the pickup (with a bit of help from G&N from up the road). We three ate leftovers, salads with steak (them) and halibut (me).

Saturday: Today I was up at 6:30 because A. and I had riding lessons; we hauled Sikem into Moscow and I had a one-hour flat lesson on him, then A. had a lesson on a borrowed horse. Back home, we exchanged trailers and hitches and trekked off for our final load—both trailer and pickup—of hay. And then we brought it home and unloaded it. As we were finishing up a pickup full of people—two in the front, two in the king-cab back, and maybe five or so in the bed—pulled into the yard and a group of old friends of K&A, aged 1 ½ to 50, all related somehow, spilled out and spent the next hour or so milling about playing fetch with the dogs, petting the horses, sinking into the pond on the “boat”, and discussing the aerial photo of the place that Ian got made last year.

And now I am tired. And K, just turned 65, was the one who handled every last bale at least twice. I only handled most of them twice.

Now, when I come out here where people don’t “exercise” because it turns out they never actually stop, I feel silly about my Pilates and my membership to the rock climbing gym where all I ever do is bouldering. But the fact is, I was remarkably well set up for three days of this hard work—which, I might add, mostly took place in the hot (86-90 degree) sun. My arms are sore (my left arm in particular, which is evidently the weak King John to my right arm's Richard the Lionhearted), but less sore than yesterday (a remarkable thing about the human body—the incredible speed at which strength can be built). And my hands aren’t blistered—in fact, my rock climbing calluses are fortified (I did wear gloves--I'm a tomboy but not delusional). And the rest of me feels great—no joint aches, no nerve twinges, and my lower back and wrist stiffnesses are gone. So, I think I’ll keep up with my exercise routines for the time being—at the very least, so I’m prepared to do Orcas the real way—including bucking hay.

NB--for all you machinists out there, a reader pointed out that it's "compound low," not "compact low." More evidence of extreme exhaustion and a tired personal editor. Thanks, Joel!

1 comment:

Ian said...

Meanwhile, the hard work at the conference in New Orleans has consisted of eating gumbo, sitting in a comfy hotel, and lifting the occassional "huge ass beer." I was all ready to lift any hay bails, but so far I haven't seen any. Oh, and I got caught out in the rain a couple days ago and had to stand under an awning for about 2 minutes.