So this morning - and a beautiful morning it was, too, sunny and warm, with a light breeze and deep blue skies - I went over to the farm in anticipation of the delivery of two absolutely enormous round bales for the sheep. As usual the dogs gave me an escort up the driveway to the house, thoughtfully announcing my arrival for Rae. Rae pops out and scolds them ("Don't you know her truck by now?!? She lives here!" - Well, yes, nearly.)
Rae is slightly at loose ends (well, as much as anyone is ever at loose ends on a farm), since half of Wildood is east, attending a quarter of Wildwood's college graduation (and you know I'm talking about you, girl!) By consequence Rae is in need of some help finishing the morning coffee.
"Got any milk to put in it?" I ask her, with an innocent grin. Rae gives me a disgusted look.
"Do I have any milk?" she repeats, in tones of incredulity. This is, realistically, a pretty stupid question; one of the goats is producing at least a couple of quarts a day, which Rae, all on her own, has no chance at going through without help. Even though she's freezing everything she milks at this point, there are still jars of the stuff in the fridge, as I discover when I poke my head in there. So many, in fact, that I'm not sure which one to use.
"Okay; just checking," I say, picking a likely-looking jar and helping myself. We make ourselves comfortable, looking out at the pretty day, and chat for a few minutes until the dogs announce the timely arrival of the Hay Dude. He has arrived promptly at noon after church, as promised, with his wife riding in the cab beside him and two gigantic round bales on his flat bed. We go on outside and meet the Hay Dude (a lean, compact and suntanned fellow who appears to be in his sixties and who bears a facial resemblance to a younger Gene Kelly - with whom he also shares a certain adept economy of motion, as I am soon to discover). He volunteers to drive the flat bed down the back hill to the sheep pens and offload there. Rae seems keen to use the tractor to move the bales, which I can understand: Using the tractor is one of the most fun things you can do on a farm. But our Hay Dude is quietly insistent, evidently concerned about safety issues, and prevails. He trundles his truck down the steep hill and backs it up parallel to the pens. There is a certain amount of clanking and rattling as the heavy chains holding he bales are released. The backmost bale is hanging nearly as much off the back of the bed as it is on the bed, but the Hay Dude ducks fearlessly underneath it to release the chain. Since this is not a Poe story, the bale does not fall on him and crush him. He clanks out from underneath the bale, dragging chains. From the cab his wife watches while he and Rae shove the bale and roll if off the bed, where it falls with a resounding thud and rolls a few feet. Rae climbs up on the flat bed and Hay Dude follows. They unchain the second bale and stand on the roof of the cab, heaving hard against the bale. Since I'd estimate their combined weight at about a quarter of that of the bale, they really have to put their backs into it. They rock it twice, three times, and it starts to roll. Rae jumps down onto the bed to push. Hay Dude braces one foot against the roof of the cab and the opposite knee hard into the bale, straining against its bulk. He is stretched out like a college hurdler going over the jumps, but just as he reaches what looks like the disaster point he hops agilely down onto the flat bed and keeps the momentum going. The second bale thumps heavily down next to the first.
There. That was easy. For me, anyway.
We go back on up the hill; the truck, in the way of diesels, belches a small cloud of exhaust. Walking behind the truck, I ask Rae, "Is it totally sick and wrong that I like the smell of diesel exhaust?"
"Yes, it is totally sick and wrong. And I like it, too," she tells me. I laugh; at least I have company in my sick wrongness. That's probably the best I can hope for, since I doubt I'll get over many of my quirks between now and death.
We re-emerge into the sunshine at the top of the hill, where I am going to write Hay Dude a check. He has quiet, smiling eyes, dark blue under brows like gull wings, white and graceful against his tanned skin. I whip out my checkbook, accidentally flinging a credit card to the ground.
"Oops," I say, retrieving it and blowing the grit off it. "Don't want to be throwing that around."
"I lost one of mine last week," he agreed. "I knew it was in the house, but I couldn't find it for the life of me. Turned up in the fridge." That makes me smile. "Do you milk the goats?" he asks me then in his quiet voice, having apparently inspected them as he drove by their pen.
"Yes; well, the owners do," I amend. "I just board my sheep here." He nods in a satisfied way. I think maybe this is a farmer thing: You like the animals for their own sakes, sure, but it's somehow viscerally satisfying to know that they are doing their part to drive the cycle of life. "So we said, what - three seventy? Three eighty?" I ask him; I've forgotten how much he wanted for delivery.
He frowns. "It can't be that much, can it?" he asks himself. "One seventy-five a bale, which is three fifty for the hay, plus delivery - yep, three seventy," he agrees. "Just make it for three sixty, though," he adds.
"You sure?" I ask him, and he nods firmly. "Okay, then," I tell him. I'm not sure why he's amended this; maybe some sense of chivalry? An older way of doing business, harking from a time when things were done on a handshake? Satisfaction that his hay is going to feed production stock? Just good old-fashioned decent farm guy-ness? Whatever it is, it seems to warm me slightly, along with his quiet, level-eyed cheer.
He takes the check and turns his truck around. Rae stops him; he has a lightweight step-stool on the bed, doubtless used to help him get the chains over the tops of the bales when he was tying them down. He's not much taller than I am, and the bales are about five feet thick. Rae has noticed that without the bales to wedge it behind, it's at risk for flying off in the breeze as soon as he hits the highway. She weights it down with chain and the Hay Dude gives her a nod of thanks and a wave as he trundles off into the gorgeous Alaskan day.
"Good eye," I tell Rae. She snorts.
"Girl, I've lost so much crap out of the back of my truck that way it's not even funny. I've learned my lesson. I need a break after pushing that hay around," she says. "Let's go sit on the deck in the sun and finish the coffee."
Well. That sounds just perfect to me.
We take the pot and a jar of goat milk out and settle into deck chairs. We chat about how we should position the bales; there are two pens, Trinity's and the main ewe pen, and since I don't want to keep buying separate hay for him, we try to figure out a way to set the bale up so that he can have access to it at the same time as the ewes. As we talk our neighborhood-resident eagle flies by, low enough that I can see his (her?) feet curled underneath him. Five minutes later one of the cranes circles just as low overhead. I can see its red crown, the places where feathers have dropped in molt from its wings. The crane soars in a wide oval above us, coasting; it drifts back down to the horse pens, then beats its wings to regain altitude and soar over us again. It makes a third pass, circling the opposite direction this time. It hangs its legs in its own slipstream, ruddering right, threading adroitly between a spruce-top and the crown of a birch tree. The spruce top passes just under its right wing, but the crane tips neither wing nor leg against its reaching branches and executes a neat turn around it, figure-eighting a glide back into the horse pens to rejoin the other cranes.
The cranes are allowed in the horse pens but not up on the lawn, because they like to kill and eat baby chickens. Unfortunately they tend to stick their long beaks through the chicken wire and grab the chicks by their heads and pull. Unable to get the entire chick back through the wire, they end up with just the head - and Wildwood ends up with a lot of decapitated baby chicks all dead in their pen. Kind of grim to come home to. This, not surprisingly, is Seriously Not Okay with Wildwood, so the dogs have been encouraged to run around and bark madly any time the cranes fly low over the lawn. They - and the cranes - have an understanding about this: In the horse pens, the cranes are welcome. On the lawn, near the chickens, they are not. This works well for the Wildwood crew - and evidently for the cranes, because they come back year after year, stalking elegantly around the horse pen, picking up stray bits of grain, hopping up and down, wings a-flutter, in their social displays. Flying overhead in pairs, crying their strange, compelling, warbling song to each other.
While the crane flies, we debate whether or not they're graceful on the wing. I think they are; Rae thinks they're not. It turns out that what I see as a peculiar grace strikes Rae more as just peculiar - and perhaps she's right. But I can't help it: When I see them, I think of grace.
For a while we talk of writing. Rae is herself a published author, and has plans for some books after the spring chores are lined out a little further. I talk about a work of fiction my agent has suggested I write, a story I started at her behest and in part from curiosity, but one which has caught my attention now. (And, sorry to say, distracted me from the blog and my other book. This is temporary, I assure you. And besides, I have no idea if this story is any good. It's in the hands of my proof-readers as we speak. They are tasked with telling me if it's crap or not: Not much point in continuing, if it it is.)
After the Wildwood Writer's Conference concludes, Rae fixes me with a stern look.
"I'm pretty sure that you left here last time without milk and eggs," she scolds me.
"Oops, sorry," I say, grinning. "Have to send me back for retraining."
"I should say," Rae agrees, gathering up the empty coffee pot and her cup. I take the milk and my own mug. I swap them for a dozen eggs and about one and a half quarts of fresh goat milk. Hmm. I'm not quite sure how being offered coffee has morphed into me taking home fresh eggs and milk, but there you are. It's a strange alchemy, but not an unusual one at Wildwood. I plan to randomly seed their kitchen with empty Ball canning jars and see what happens. It's not quite spontaneous generation; more like some kind of transformative magic involving benevolent elves.
So now I'm reawakening my blogging muscles, giving them a little stretch. After all, I have to limber up a little before I'll be ready to regale you with some of my less dignified visits to Wildwood of late.
We can't all be as self-possessed as the Hay Dude.