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One Week Later and Thirty Years Ago

June 2, 2013

Last week I was blissfully enjoying the last bitter winds of an unseasonably cool springtime. This week is another story. Today is the third and I certainly hope the last in a string of 90-degree days. Even if one could not feel the temperature, one can see it as one drives along Quincy Shore Drive and Wollaston Beach. Firstly, there are the pedestrians. In winter, they trundle along like so many lethargic atoms. The tiny energy input of the low sun leaves them moving along in their dark winter clothes. But as the sun grows stronger in the spring, they speed up. Electrons jumping orbits, their colors brighten from blues, browns, and blacks, to greens, oranges, and reds. Their speed increases as well, from plodding to striding, and jogging to running. Of course the analogy in far from perfect, and in today’s intense heat the colors may have been brightest, but the pace was back to plodding. The bay was shimmering, and the merest breeze created tremolos upon the water’s surface. In the distance Hull 1 sluggishly spun as if bogged down by the soupy air.

The new armchair, with the back support freshly oiled.

The new armchair, with the back support freshly oiled.

In any case, I can take care of a bit of business from my last post. Here is a picture of the armchair I had been talking about. It is now more or less finished, although I am contemplating re-enforcing the lashing that holds the back support with a wooden peg through the joint. I don’t believe it’d come off, but it does move a bit.
The farm was quiet today compared to the past two weekends. Even last cold and rainy Saturday had more visitors than today. I decided to start another armchair using green wood, as my supply of seasoned wood is very low. I have always understood that one may put dry tenons into dry mortises, green tenons into green mortises, even dry tenons into green mortises. But one must never put green tenons into dry mortises because the green wood will shrink and the tenon come loose. I know this last point from personal experience. I made a table once with a seasoned top. I had two beautiful legs of seasoned wood, but needed a third leg and (being impatient) used a piece of green wood. Initially it fit perfectly. Two days later there was a 1/16th inch gap and the leg fell right out of the top if you lifted it.
So I am going to try to make an armchair entirely out of green wood. At least the rope seat should hold things together. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The hot weather reminded me of the summers I spent down on the farm in my teens. My grandfather was still haying, he liked to feed his horses his own hay though it could be expensive to do so. He’d have to mow when he was sure to have three or four days of hot dry weather, because if it rained on the cut hay it would rot in the field. Of course, if he let it grow too long without cutting it would turn to straw and be worthless for the horses. He’d watch the three lunch time weather forecasts, the evening forecast, refer to the almanac, consult his own barometer every day, and seemed to listen to everyone’s guesses (I think he placed particular weight on the opinion of his barber, but I might be wrong on that). On those rare occasions when they all agreed, he’d cut the hay. This is where he did a lot of knocking wood, and avoided any mention of precipitation. Then he’d let it sit 24 hours or so before he tedded it (that is kicked it up and put it into wind rows. Depending on how dry the hay had been when he cut it and how dry the air was this might go on for another day or two. Then we’d bail it. The boys (me and my cousins, et al) followed the hay baler as it sputtered and lurched its way along the wind rows. One of us would run ahead and pitch the hay into the baler’s maw, while the others rode on the wagon and caught the bails as they came off the conveyor and stacked it in the back of the wagon. It was hard, hot work, but in the barn today there are photos of the days when men pitched the unbaled hay up into the tall ox-drawn wagons and I imagine that was a good deal hotter. If the hay was dry enough at that point (Jimmy Dolan would stick his hands deep into the scratchy bales to test their dampness) we could put the bales into the barn immediately. If they had any moisture in them, they might begin to compost, creating enough heat to spontaneously combust. But more often that not we would put what was in effect an enormous hair dryer over the two wagons and blow hot air through the bales (the wagons had slatted floors so the air could pass through). This, of course required kerosene to heat the air and made the process much more expensive. When it was time to load the bales into the hay barn we pulled wagons up to the hay barn and stuck another conveyor belt on the hay wagon’s tailgate just below the hayloft window The belt clanked and clattered. And if you didn’t load the bales properly they tumbled back down the conveyor, or worse they fell apart and showered the loader with fifty pounds of hay. Up in the hayloft we scurried back and forth filling the barn. At first it was a long run from the window to the back of the loft, but as the barn filled the distance grew shorter. We stacked the bales about seven tiers high. Although we were less supervised up there (it was hard for my grandfather to climb the ladder, and Jimmy loaded the hay) we knew we had to stack the bales well or they’d come crashing down and that was a serious no-no. This was a summer ritual all through our teens and it was exciting to feel our muscles grow each year, and see our tans, and feel exhausted at the end of a long day of really hard work. Most of all, I felt like I was part of a tradition that had been going on at the farm for more than one hundred and fifty years in my family, and for hundreds of years on that piece of land. I loved it. I will never forget the hay dust sparkling in the sunlight shining through the hayloft window or the trip to the ice pond at the end of the day where we swam the dust off ourselves. Sometimes we’d swim in the ocean, which was a hell of a lot colder, and while it felt like a punch in the nose, the salt never felt refreshing to me.
But yesterday on my drive home from a prematurely blistering day on the farm, I saw folks out on the rocky beach at the bottom of Forest Ave. A far cry from the crashing waves a week ago.

Folks sunbathing.  Note House on the little island on the right.

Folks sunbathing. Note House on the little island on the right.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Lydia permalink
    June 2, 2013 9:46 pm

    Wonderful! It brings back fantastic memories.

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