& wonder of
the hay field
by Jim Young
Jim Young is a farmer, son, brother,
husband, father, grandfather, friend,
pilot, engineer and writer. He raises
cattle and grandkids on his Cumberland
Plateau family farm.
24 | Cumberland Now • September 2020
Since our beginning we have had to wonder
about the stars, those lights in the sky that seem
to sparkle and ripple with the winds.
Stars are part of life on the farm. An old saying
refers to working from daylight to dark. A man
who makes his living from the soil knows that
neither his worries nor his effort sets with the sun.
But, working at night isn’t bad. It’s cooler. The
bugs seem to take a break. The sweat of the day
evaporates, leaving a cool, invigorating sense of
well-being. The soul experiences a second wind.
The whippoorwill and an occasional scream from
a bobcat can draw a man’s attention, or serve as
the transition to deeper thoughts.
My best experiences in starry nights on the
farm were while hauling hay. This was before
round bales and hay spikes, and the task could
take several days. After getting it in the bale, the
hay had to be taken to the barn. You couldn’t let
a rain catch it in the field or all your hard work
would be ruined. Sometimes we worked all day
and well into the night.
Dad had his red-bellied Ford tractor. He had
a trailer made from an old Model A Ford chassis.
This trailer had ancient yellow poplar planks,
grayed by the weather, for its work bed.
In the hayfield, Mother or Sis would drive
between the rows of hay bales in first gear. Dad
would pick up each bale and pass it to me as I
stood on the trailer. For the first layer or two, Dad
really didn’t need much help. Dad could sling a
bale of hay and make it almost always fall in its
proper place. The third layer was roughly seven
or eight feet off the ground, and I would then
become marginally useful by taking every bale he
threw my way and nudging it in place. Every layer
was like weaves in a basket, with bales being
paired in twos, like partners. To make the load
stable we interlocked each layer, setting its bales
at a ninety-degree offset from the layer beneath.
The best part was that when the trailer was
completely loaded, I remained “stranded” on top
of the stack. Last bale on would be first bale off
when we got the barn. I got to ride to the barn this
way, having earned this higher perspective.
Once the trailer was loaded, Dad would get
behind the wheel of the tractor and drive us to the
barn. The old planks and metal bindings of the
trailer would talk to us, making noises I imagined
were like those of a ship at sea. Pivoting from
the centerline of the single axle, every sway of
the trailer would become exaggerated where I lay
prone on my back at the top of the stack.
I felt as if I had been thrust into the night sky,
and that I had a kinship with the cosmos. I felt
like a guest, but one who was being welcomed
back after only a short time away.
Two worlds beyond our physical efforts would
be merging. I was uniquely positioned to see it.
The mist would rise from the ground, giving a
surreal quality to our surroundings. The lightning
bugs would flood from below, rising up and
around me, mixing and merging with the lights
in the sky. The bats would fly from their dark
havens, intercepting the flying insects, weaving
around like the jet fighters of today. I also witnessed
an energy exchange. It was as if the sunshine
had been worn out from its own exuberance
and the stars had gathered to celebrate this void,
to offer their small individual contributions as
tender and seedstock for tomorrow.
We were working while most others were in
their homes having supper. But no one had more
than I did in that moment. There was no want, no
need. Ambition, the kind that drives a boy from
home, was still slumbering within me. I was satisfied
Dreams know no station. I would wager that
a working boy’s dreams could out-pace those of
many rich men.