When I was very young putting up hay was a way for most young men to make a little spending money. A person could drive through the country at certain times of the year and the fields were lined from one end to the other with rows and rows of square bales of hay. The farmers would be seen with huge stacks of perfectly compressed blocks of cut and dried grasses of various types towering over tractors or pickup trucks on their way to a barn. It wasn’t really uncommon to a couple of the older boys riding on top of the stack as the vehicle drifted carefully across the fields while two more boys tossed more bales up to add to the stack. The unloading process was just as laborious with the boys on top of the stack tossing the bales back down or directly into the barn for storage.
Sometime in the late 70s or early 80s I started seeing the large round bales like you see in the feature image. My grandfather began remarking on how his poor cows wouldn’t be able to have a square meal. The iconic large stack of square bales disappeared into the past. ( I’m sure that there’s still some around however I haven’t seen it for decades). The crew of three or four teenage boys was replaced by a tractor with a fork lift attachment. The round bales turned out to be a be a better deal for the farmer because of the labor costs but every time I see the round bales I get nostalgic for the view of acres and acres perfectly lined up rectangular blocks on contour with the landscape.
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Out of all the jobs I’ve worked I think “Rancher’s Assistant” was my favorite. My Grandfather McClung made it seem easy. As a pre teen my responsibility was to count the cattle a couple of times a day and check the fencing for any slack in the barbed wire. Even though I haven’t been involved with cattle for many years I still have an urge to take a head count anytime I see cows.
I miss the long walks out to repair a hole in the fence line. It was the conversations and time with my Grandfather that made it special to share work. And then there was O’l Count. My grandfather’s cattle dog. When it was time to rotate the pastures (moving the cattle from one paddock to the next) we would open up a gate and tell O’l Count to bring the cattle. Without fail he would gather the herd and drive them through.
Occasionally a mother cow or the bull would resist but the dog was way to quick and agile for what seemed like a slow motion attack. He would dodge to the side and circle back around to nip at their heels. Most of the time this wasn’t a requirement. We always fed the cows something special when we moved them and when they saw the gate open they would come running like pets.
The cattle my Grandfather raised didn’t look like the one in the feature image. They looked like the one below. They were Hereford cattle.
I believe that it’s a Lakenvelderbull in the feature image. The Lakenvelder is a dairy cow and it seem that the milk would be perfect for dipping Oreo cookies. 😉
Needless to say that when I pass by this herd on my way to my day job I have a nostalgic reaction to seeing them even though they’re not the breed I’m used to. Believe or not this breed is an endangered species. According to Wikipedia there are less than 300 of these cows in the United States and less than 1000 worldwide. Which of course makes it an extra special sight in the Appalachian Mountains.
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Ah, the carefree days of youth. The smell of the grass and the sun’s caress on my face. Most of all, the time to just wonder around and roam the landscape. I would love to have had a camera in those days when the whole world was one big adventure. The very pasture where I took the picture of my uncle’s calf in the feature image was one of the best places to be a kid. I remember gathering up a whole coffee can full of green plastic army men and positioning them in the rocky outcrops just a little beyond this spot. In the days before electronic devices we would go down to the swampy spot in the bottom of the pasture and prospect for fossils of reeds and such by banging the sandstone together until it cracked. Later on after I married I actually found a few while gathering stone to fix potholes in the driveway. There is a spring close by and at times the field was full of little clay chimneys created by crayfish. Also known as the mountains lobsters these crustaceans live on dry land and burrow holes to find underground water. Just over the hill is a field of honor where two knights (my brother and I) would meet to have duals. A dead stick was the weapon of choice and at one point we had a whole arena set up. A fallen tree served as the main contact point. The “knights” would stand on the log and battle for hours. There was really no way to win. Losing however was accomplished by either having your stick broken down until it was useless or losing your balance and falling off of the log. The consequences of losing was the shameful walk to the edge of the woods to find a new stick.
We would swing on grape vines, climb trees and skip stones. There might even be the remnants of a fort deep in forest.
Come to think of it, I’m adult enough to get out and act like a kid again. Who wants to go jump in a mud puddle? I won’t tell your mom. 😉
It’s said that photographers work with two main elements. Light and Time. I suppose that’s why so many of my writings emphasizes the observation of time. Tonight I’m looking at another version of my favorite old barn and I began to think about how quickly all of our tomorrows become yesterdays. It seems that I was just blogging about how much I was looking forward to Springtime and this morning I saw the leaves falling on my lawn. When I was a kid summer seemed to last a lifetime and today I blink my eyes and it’s almost gone. Sure we’ve had some unseasonably warm weather but the light is fading fast. A few years ago I was in a gym and one of the other men in the locker room made the same observation about how fast the summer went by. His friend answered that when they were only six years old summer was 1/6 of their lives. Now they’re sixty years old and summer was only 1/60 of their lives. The passage of time was relative to the age of the observer.
We live in the moment but moments pass so quickly and we are left with a collection of yesterdays. We can plan what we want tomorrow to become but we only have now to bend time and forge the now into a yesterday worth collecting. Mistakes will be made. It’s inevitable. Many of us are trying so hard to go back and fix the errors that we are losing the now and the opportunity for a new and better yesterday. You see, the old cliche about building a better tomorrow is just that. A cliche. All we can really do is use our now in the best way possible and hope that when we are finished with it that it matures into a better yesterday. A yesterday that is captured by the lens of memory and added to a fine collection which can be shared with those we love.
What is it that we love about very old things? I like nothing more than stumbling upon an old well weathered piece of wood or a rusty hunk of iron. Last night I talked about God’s perspective of time and how time carries us along as it flows. Tonight I’m thinking about our perspective. As time pulls us ever closer towards a destiny we cannot see clearly we can only measure the progress by looking back. Those things were once shiny and new now serve as landmarks. The old rusted trucks, crumbling stone and this old barn are like anchors that help us navigate the raging river of time. It’s even better if there’s a personal connection with the object. I have to wonder if anyone ever passes this barn and relives a special moment? Was there a first kiss that happened here? Was this the place where a spark grew into true love and then into a family? Was this the place where a parent answered a child’s important questions about life’s mysteries while doing the daily chores? Did a grandparent tell stories about when the parent was a kid? Do these stories still echo across the river of time? Yes. I think that they do. These very old things are the sentinels of memories that are still being made today.
A good farm tractor is a lifetime investment. That old machine may not be as sleek as a new sports car but it will serve you well long after the sports car has rusted out. I remember when my grandfather bought this one in the early 70s and my uncle still uses it today. It’s hauled tons and tons of hay. It’s plowed gardens. It’s cleared the snow and ice from the long driveway and the public road.
A few years ago I was being interviewed for a new position and the interviewer asked what kind of car would best describe my personality. I’m sure that he was thinking about race cars, minivans and the normal cars you see on the highway. My answer? I want to be a tractor. The piece of equipment that you keep for a lifetime.