We were down to about 20 bales and I was starting to get nervous. An empty hay barn is a dispiriting spectacle. No crone can rest easy in a hay vacuum.
Two years ago, as a result of the worst drought since the dawn of time, you couldn’t get a flake of hay in Cottonmouth County for love or money. All I could scrounge was last year’s reject hay imported from the lush, green North, a moldy timothy/orchard/alf mix that you wouldn’t feed to cattle, going for a price-gouging $15 a bale. This hay was so enfungussed that when you broke it open a cloud of spores would sproof out like some venomous alien flower arrangement on Star Trek. It smelled, not like grass, but like mushrooms.
The situation was dire, but I was happy to get the stuff. I wrestled it into submission by steaming it in a giant hay steamer. The horses loved it (figures), but holy shit. Owing to the particular messy, fussy (mussy?) nature of hay steamering and the necessity of feeding the hay directly it has been steamed or the horses will apparently die in agony, the operation took on something like the smell of full-time grunt-labor.
A hay steamer, you are no doubt anxious to know, is basically a large ice chest connected by a hose to the boiler unit of a Jiffy garment steamer. An autoclave for fodder, if you will. You put the hay in the chest, go through a lot of mussiness with the boiler, turn it on, and hope you remember to turn it off again in an hour before it burns your barn down. The steam supposedly kills mold spores, which is useful if all you can get is nasty hay. However, the design flaws in my steamer — an unreservedly asinine device made by a company called HayGain — screw you, HayGain! — are legion. I wouldn’t wish hay steaming on a fucking men’s rights activist. I’ll spare you the grim minutiae; suffice it to say that of the HayGain’s many serious defects, the razor-sharp metal spikes that jut up from the bottom of the chest to impale the hands are among the most diabolical. The thing is practically an iron maiden, but with the added insult of steamin’ hot steam.
But I digress.
I am fortunate, this year, to have been able to retire the dreadful HayGain to the shed. My hay guy, Joe Ben, has just delivered a butt-load of fairly edible coastal Bermuda at the still-inflated price of $9 a bale.
Joe Ben, incidentally, is a freakishly strong dude. He can toss a 60-lb bale of hay about 50 feet in the air with one hand while milking a cow with the other. He also fancies himself a keen observer of human nature. Once he had finished tossing my 200 bales into perfect stacks, Joe Ben perceived the expression of contentment on my face as I admired the tableau. Quoth he, “You women and your hay.”
What tha? Did I just hear a sentence beginning with the words “you women”? Wait, that’s right, I’m not in Austin anymore. I’m in Cottonmouth County. Out here in the fields, gender-neutral conversation is a figment.
So, according to Joe Ben, there is something like a love connection between women and hay. Apparently no woman is ever as happy as she is when her hay barn is full. Extrapolating from the gender-specific nature of his remark, I assume his contention is that men, by comparison, are completely immune to the charms of a fully-stocked hay barn.
When I re-open the Twistitute for the Study of Rural Sexism, the first study I will conduct is one that will undertake to disprove Joe Ben’s theory that hay barn-related contentment is a function of sex. As a professional crone, I do not suffer at all from bias, but I can tell you right now that anybody, whether Vagina-American or no, who has ever endured the agony of crap-hay steaming during a drought, will show elevated levels of oxytocin and vasopressin when gazing upon a freshly packed barn full of decent hay. Mark my words!