This post was written for a speech I gave a few years ago - I post it now because hay season is upon us, and the tractor beckons...
When we decided we wanted to live and raise our family in the countryside of rural Ontario, I envisioned a large spacious house surrounded by large shady trees and curvy perennial gardens that send flowering vines cascading over stone steps. Andrew envisioned rolling fields and farmland. I contemplated lazy weekends spent reading books on the verandah, a jug of iced tea beside me; my husband contemplated the satisfaction of running a hobby farm and the manly prospects of mending fences, tending cattle, and driving his very own tractor. So when we saw the house and property into which we ultimately moved, I admired the proportions of the large airy living rooms, and Andrew stood on the deck and admired the hay field. We compromised: he didn't get the huge barn, and I didn't get the verandah.
I am basically lazy. I see weekends as a time to kick back and relax. Not so Andrew, who wakes up bright and early on Saturday morning rubbing his hands together in gleeful contemplation of all the things he has to do that day. As I'm standing barefooted in my pj's pouring myself a cup of coffee and shaking cornflakes into bowls for the children, he is dressed and pulling on the ubiquitous rubber boots - or wellies as they are referred to around here - and detailing his litany of what he is going to do. "I'm just going to check on the calf, then I'm going to fix that wire on the tractor and go and finish fencing the other field. This afternoon I'm going to bushhog down by the river and chop down a couple of dead trees. We can turn them into firewood and burn them next winter." I swear his eyes literally light up at the prospect of all that hard labour - while I nod absently and bury my head in the newspaper. It's barely 7.30 am.
This is in the spring. By summer, he's kicked into high gear, and is up - if it is possible - even earlier, bringing me coffee in bed which I drink groggily, only half awake. Which is how I got coerced into driving the darn tractor in the first place. I must first say - and I say this without hesitation - that I am not a tractor person. I did not get excited the day the shiny John Deere arrived in the driveway; I do not thrill to the sound of its roaring engine, and I certainly do not - like some people I could mention - carry around a photograph of it in my pocket. I believe what I said was, "Get a tractor if you want but don't expect me to drive it." Tractors , in my opinion, are noisy, bumpy and more or less to be avoided.
So on this morning in early July, I drank coffee luxuriously aware that it was Saturday and the weekend stretched before me. My mother in law had all three children and I had the day to myself. The Glengarry Pioneer Museum? I thought to myself, as my husband mentioned that the forecast was for rain tomorrow. Lunch at the Priest's Mill with a girlfriend? I was brought out of my pleasant reverie with a start.
"So since you are free today, I thought you could help me with the hay before it rains," said the deep rumbly voice beside me. "I'll let you drive the new tractor," he added, making it sound like a great honour. "You can rake, and I'll bale."
I plead sleepiness for not putting up more of a fight, and by 8 am I was dressed and outside staring up at the big green tractor. I was about to get my first lesson in how to operate the thing, and with a sigh, and a glance at the hay field which loomed large and golden behind the house, I abandoned the last of the pleasant thoughts of what I could be doing this fine day, and prepared to climb into the driver's seat of the tractor.
I drove a standard vehicle for years, so the physical operation of the tractor was child's play. But while the Volkswagen Beetle that preceded my blue mini van kidmobile had a stick shift, that was as far as any similarities go between a car and a tractor. The VW was a smooth ride with leather seats; the JD made me feel like a kernel of popcorn in an air popper, but at least the constant motion kept me from sticking to the vinyl seat. The VW offered a choice between the radio and the CD player; the JD offered a choice between having the throttle loud or very loud. The VW could turn on a dime; the JD with the rake attached had a turning radius approximately equal to that of a transport truck.
I finally raked sufficiently well enough for my husband to let me loose in the field alone. Up and down I went. Up. And down. Up. And down. Once you get the feel for the job, it is quite easy, and it wasn't long before the raking was second nature and I was shifting, turning and piling the hay in tall windrows like a pro. I had been prepared for boredom, even for resentment at losing my precious day, but somewhere along the third row, a funny thing happened. I began to enjoy myself.
For one thing, it's always nice weather when you're raking hay. And when the sun is shining down, and the breeze whispers past your face as you drive, and the sweet smell of freshly cut hay wafts through the air, it's pretty easy to feel optimistic about the world and your life. After a while, you cease to hear the roar of the tractor and it fades into the recesses of your subconscious, allowing you to hear the song of the birds who have forgotten you are there. The rattle of the tractor over uneven ground, likewise seems to recede and the jolts which initially startled you now seem merely comforting - like being rocked. And it is you and the tractor and the earth and the sky. And nothing else. And as you work your way up and down, looking over your shoulder to check the straightness of your rows, you are able to let your mind drift. All the little things that might have been bothering you fade into oblivion and you are alone with your thoughts and your dreams on a pleasant warm afternoon.
People who suffer from stress or anxiety are often recommended to try some sort of therapy - aromatherapy, colour therapy, water therapy. For my part, I recommend hay therapy. By the end of the day I was pleasantly tired, and had a very real sense of satisfaction at seeing the neat bales of hay scattered across the field. There had been so many things I could have done with my day, and in the end raking hay gave me a gift: the gift of spending time alone with my own thoughts. I felt happy. I felt contented. I felt connected to the earth in a way I never had before.
I even offered to help put away the hay, but Andrew, likely wanting my experience to end on a high note, hired a couple of students to do the dirty work, and took me out to dinner instead. The perfect end to what turned out to be, unexpectedly, a perfect day.