For years I’ve had a secret desire to make hay. My first and most enduring experience of farming has always been hay. When I was growing up the boys in my family would congregate in the summer at one or the other of my two aunts’ houses where we would pick up, stack, unstack, and deliver hundreds and hundreds of bales of hay. It was hot, dirty, exhausting work. The type of work that only the competitive spirit of very young men can make interesting – and sometimes not even then.
99% of the time the hay was alfalfa. It was irrigated and we usually had 3 cuttings a summer, each cutting produced between 3500 and 4000 square bales. It was a lot of hay. What stuck with me over the years was the smell. There’s just nothing like the smell of hay at any stage in its lifecycle. Fresh mown. Hot and earthy in the stack. Even old hay in a barn still carries the scent of the sun.
As of today I finally have hay produced from my own land. It’s just grass (as if there is such a thing as “just grass”) and I’m about to give the majority of it to a neighbor. But this morning I called in to work and went and gathered it out of the field and for now I can walk out and smell summers from long ago.
The guy who cut and baled it for us runs a mule rescue. Interesting fellow. We were talking about mules and how he came to be a mule rescuer when he asked me offhandedly if I was a believing man.
“Somewhat,” I replied.
So enigmatic. Of course he didn’t notice, just commenced to tell me that he thought his ability to handle mules was a gift from God. Maybe it is. I don’t know. But I do know that being a believing man or not is more complex than we are willing to acknowledge.
He couldn’t know that I was a believing child. That I was a questioning youth and an unbelieving young adult. He couldn’t know that I yearned to believe as I grew older and then that I was disillusioned in maturity, that I was now a tolerant unbeliever who still believes just not in the same way or the same god.
He couldn’t know that inside me (inside all of us if we are honest with ourselves) there is a constant recalibrating of the dissonance of the past and that the answer to any question dealing with belief or emotion can never be “yes” or “no”. Even when it’s yes or no.
The Oklahoma and Texas panhandles in the late 70s and early 80s were not an easy place to be a gay youth. There is still a dark undercurrent to the sunny smell of fresh mown hay for me. And even though now it’s more like something you see under glass in a museum, I remember. I remember being uncomfortable and not knowing why or how to fix it. I remember good times and fun times but always as if through a glass darkly. I remember knowing without knowing how that I would have to leave that place and those people if I wanted to survive. That I would always want to come back but I would have to return home somewhere else.
Now, when I smell and touch my own hay I can say that I do believe. I have a large belief in the smallest of things. The miracle of grass. The satisfaction of work. The loudness of silence. The strength of peace. The gift of friendship. The solace of forgiveness. The wonder of love.
The magic of life.
I guess grass isn’t just grass after all.