An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Dr. Jim's apple orchard was a threat to his practice as the town dentist.
Working on the apple orchard was fun, but I wouldn't say it was exactly romantic farm-work. When I think of personally-owned farms that have been so big in North American culture over the past few centuries, I imagine farms with cows and goats and pigs and chicken. Animals excite me, because I like to eat meat. There was a farm like this down the road from Dr. Jim's apple orchard.
Johnny, Adam, and I hopped in the apple orchard mascot, "Ugly" - a big, ugly, fat Ford truck with a terrible stickshift and "Kill" and "Die" painted on it. We drove to Danny Bruce's organic animal farm. It needed our help.
Danny is a farmer I admire a lot. He has a skinny, not-very-powerful-looking body. A large part of his body is his huge brown beard, that pads his face like insulator. He's had that beard since August 1980.
He comes from a long line of farmers. When he sits down to eat, he likes his beef to taste like beef and his chicken to taste like chicken. He argues when his wife puts any spices or anything fancy in it. It's nearly impossible these days for a small farmer to succeed in the North American economy, but Danny's determined and willing to work twelve hours a day to try to fight for his farm's life.
Summer is haying season on the farms. For this work, Danny needed us.
Johnny, Adam, and I drove onto the farm turf below Danny's two-story barn. Two of Danny's young, volunteering WWOOFers - Vancouver Steve, who dressed and spoke as a 1930's milkman, and Austrian Bergita - stood on a trailer, behind a tractor. They stood on piled-up bundles of hay. They shuffled their feet around and placed these four-feet-long rectangles on a conveyor belt that carried the bundles up to the barn's upper loft.
Farm-boy-looking Adam had done this before. He called me to follow him, and we entered the gray barn. It smelled of the dry hair of the goats that "beh-eh-eh-eh-eh"-ed just outside. We climbed an unsteady wooden ladder upstairs to where the action was taking place.
Sweat could be felt in the trapped-in heat of the windowless loft. An eightteen-foot-tall room of the loft was filling up with hay bundles. This would go to feed the cows in the winter.
Adam and I took our places on the steps created as the hay bundles got stacked to the roof. Danny's everyday main employee, a block-headed young guy in dark-rimmed glasses named David, stood where the conveyor belt peeked into the barn. He passed the hay a few feet up, to where I stood. I passed each bundle a few feet further up to Adam. Adam passed to bearded Danny, or to a WWOOFer from Maine named Naomi. Danny and his crew had been bailing hay all day.
Naomi was big. She looked nearly as if she'd had the life sweated out of her.
Those hay bails came fast. Real fast. As soon as I got one of them out of my hands to Adam, I had to turn around, and David would be passing one up to me. And they weren't light, those hay bails. Each weighed between twenty-five and about forty-five pounds.
We had to place the hay squares as they came, and we had to place them wisely and strategically so we wouldn't box ourselves into a dark corner. It was like playing tetris with humans. Frail-looking Danny, at the top of the pyramid, did well, filling up routinely one fraction of the room, then another.
The hay irritated our forearms. After fifteen minutes, the hay stopped coming. We were exhausted.
We jumped on the empty tractor-trailer and rode, resting, as we got pulled to the fields. There, we followed around the moving tractor. We picked up hay bundles and threw them up to Danny, who stacked the hay tightly.
The gleaming yellow sun was dipping below the ridge of the North Mountain of the Annapolis Valley. There was one of Dr. Jim's WWOOFers there: a life-enjoying Japanese girl named Junko. Seeing Junko there, in her brimmed fisherman's sun-cap, in the flat field, below the setting sun, I felt like I was in a rice patty somewhere in Asia.
Sounds exotic, huh? But, no; this was merely the intense world of the North American small-farmer.
We rode atop the hay bails, back to Danny's barn. I recommended to Johnny, who loves learning experiences, to come up into the loft and check out that side of the hay bailing. Bailing hay had really made an impression on me. I loved it.
Johnny wrapped a bandana around his mouth. He took the front position. The hay bails came. "They just kept coming and coming, and I couldn't keep up," he would say later.
Johnny's got a muscular upper body, but he's also a bit short, and he weighs just 150 pounds. He reached up and passed the hay to David, who passed to me. I passed up to Danny or sometimes stacked them myself. It was frenetic, itchy, and sweaty.
Johnny struggled - the hay bails once or twice piled up on the conveyor belt - but, who wouldn't?
Johnny caught up. Hay bails poured into the remaining recesses of the loft. "Ooh, that's a heavy one," Johnny said as he passed on an unusually weighty bundle.
David grabbed and passed. In his deep, rough voice - a bit like a voicebox - he laughingly remarked, "Yeah." Every ounce of difference between those hay bails, you can bet we noticed.
Johnny tired and went down. The hay was all throughout the air in this loft. Sometimes, pieces fell into my eyes. Johnny's allergies wouldn't recover from this onslaught for nearly a week. The poor guy coughed the next few nights through.
David and I each moved down a step. I had to accept many hay bails from down near my feet and then make high passes to Danny. Man, those hay bails just kept coming.
I tired. Several times, I couldn't keep from grunting. David said, "Good. I'm not the only one who's tired."
It wasn't good that I was grunting. At one point, I just simply could not lift a heavy bundle as high as I had to get it to reach Danny. I tried and heaved and huffed. I found it funny that I could be so tired, and I laughed.
"That's not funny," David spoke up to me.
Soon after, I bailed. (I gave up.) David and Danny put the finishing touches on the room.
Wow. I never imagined an activity could be quite like that. I'm not saying I would do it every day, but I digged it.
Luckily, we got in "Ugly" and we had Dr. Jim's farmhouse to look forward to. Dr. Jim's wife certainly would have one of her excellent desserts waiting for us. And Dr. Jim was a character; he would be ready to play cards and hang out.
Upon first thought, you wouldn't expect a dentist to want to marry such a fantastic dessert chef. It'd be like a knee surgeon marrying a mobster.
But, this fun couple deserves its own story ...
Until later, "Hay Fever" (as in, I'm crazy about bailing hay) Modern O.
with "Hay Fever" (it makes him cough and sneeze) Johnny