Sounds of Vermont: Haying

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(Host) As the saying goes, you make hay when the sun shines. Making hay is a constant race against time, machinery and weather. At the Pease farm in Middlesex this time of year, the sound of haying is also the sound of neighbors working together.

For our series, “Sounds of Vermont,” VPR’s John Dillon visits the hayfield.

(Sounds of baler clunks and tractor growls.)

(Dillon) Eighty-six year old Gerald Pease has made hay in the high meadows of Middlesex since he was a kid. He remembers the day he bought his first tractor – August 28, 1947. Before that, he used a pair of horses. But he isn t nostalgic for the old days.

(Sound of a baler in background.)
(Pease) “I started in 1930. We didn’t have bales until into the 50s. We pitched it on with a pitchfork. I can’t help but think how a lot better it is mowing with a tractor than it would be with the horses. Horses, by golly, they’d get hot. You couldn’t work ’em half as much as you can.” (Sound of baler clanking.) “Uh oh! Whoa! Are they okay??”

(Dillon) On a good day, the machinery sweeps up the cut hay, presses it into rectangular shaped bales and ties them with twine. But even the best balers are cantankerous contraptions. And today is no exception. As the sun beats down, the machine begins to spew hay in loose bundles.

(Pease) “Maybe they just lost one. Stop! Gerald, stop. Now the baler goes.”

(Dillon) On the hayfield, it’s the sound of silence that is unwelcome. A repair team huddles at the equipment, with neighbor David Gardner leading the way.

(Pease) “Well that should tie now. Should, but will it?”
(Gardner) “Are there just a few extra pieces in there that got jammed up? Well, we’ll soon find out won’t we.”
(Sound of tractor starting up again. Cranks and clunks and sounds of the baler.)

(Dillon) And so it goes. The Pease Farm makes hay the old way – in square bales and with lots of volunteer labor. The help comes from neighbors and friends, from high school kids and grade school kids. In the breeze on top of a filled wagon is the place to be:

(Noah) “This is much funner than walking around and picking up bales.”
(Adult voice) “That one’s a little heavy to put on top.”
(Sound of a tractor, stacking bales on the wagon.)

(Dillon) Pease’s neighbor, Sarah Seidman, coordinates the hay crew.

(Seidman) “It’s just friends and neighbors. It’s really a community working to get the fields open. We see who’s on vacation, whose back is hurt and then we get everybody else.”

(Pease) “By golly, it’s surprising how much the neighbors come in to help get the hay in. Back in the ’40s, Fred Perry used to live down on the branch, he and Charlie Alexander. I cut two to three loads of hay, get it raked and tumbled and they’d come up and help me put it into the barn. Then they’d stay and do the same thing all over the again. I used to help them down there on the branch.”

(Sound of a wagon driving around the field and then into the barn.) “Whoa… woo! Sarah you might have to fix my stacking job.”

(Dillon) Inside the barn, a flock of swallows is temporarily displaced as the bales are tossed up to the rafters. The elevator is moving bales to another loft.

“My hay fever’s acting up, I’m going home! No such luck.” (Thud of hay bale, grunts and laughter.)

(Dillon) It’s hot, it’s sweaty, and the chaff finds its way down your throat. The Pease crew finds relief in “switchel,” the gingery, tangy drink of the hayfield.

(Pease) “By golly, we used to have that back when I was a kid, down to uncles. And I used to carry around the pail for the hired help to drink. Put a little syrup and a little ginger and a little vinegar to taste. There ain’t no recipe for it, just go by gosh and be glory.” (Laughs) “How bout that!”

(Dillon) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon, at the Pease Farm in Middlesex.

(Host) Our series “Sounds of Vermont,” which airs Mondays, explores everyday sounds and what they mean to us.

Tell us your favorite sound of Vermont!

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