This morning I looked out to the east and had a strange flash of misplaced memory, sheep on my neighbor’s bank lot, between the big pond behind my house and the ocean. Once they were in those meadows, big wooly beasts sheared in the summertime, probably just as they were about to keel over in the heat.
We went to the beach when I was little walking across our field, through a bar-way, to the neighbor’s west lot where a handful of cars were parked. We knew who was visiting by the license plates (my mother, like me, had no sense of automobiles — letters and numerals came more easily to us, and in summer, the colors that denoted residency in other states). We continued around a duck pond lined with lobster pots to catch the turtles who went after the water fowl, and especially the ducklings and goslings, easy prey. There were white geese who hissed and Canadas, grand elegant creatures with long black velvet necks, before they were so plentiful they were a nuisance.
We passed the barnyard, when I was very little stopping to visit with the older lady who received visitors from a chair in the yard. She didn’t walk well, my mother told me, later explaining she had lost toes to diabetes.
The sheep shearing was in a field overlooking the sea, bounded by a wall of stones blackened from years of twine nets being draped upon them and tarred. An older, an ancient to my eyes, man lived in a shed at the edge of the hill, just before it sloped down to the dune and the sea, and we would visit with him as well.
We went to the beach through a movie set.
The “sheep” I was seeing across the pond were hay bales, they had been there yesterday; it is July, I am hearing the rumble of the big red tractor. They should not have been a surprise.
It is a little late to be doing a first cutting of hay, or would be anywhere but Block Island.
Later, I meet a tractor pulling a side-feeding hay rake on the Neck Road. It is a sight that makes me happy; I remember years ago the driver’s father headed in the other direction on this same road, being passed by an impatient driver just south of the Breakers in a car that immediately turned into Scotch Beach.
This machine was headed for Indian Head Neck where the grass, cut a few days ago, has lain, drying, in the summer sun. By afternoon the windrows are ready for the baler, the high sided wagon in place to be piled high with bound oblongs.
He and the neighbor who did the bank lot are on the road, whose father used to hay these fields, are moving about, these two men who both have grandchildren but I think of as not so terribly removed from the lads they once were when this season returns.
There is a thread of remembrance shared by everyone who has had any part in haying, little matter how it was done, of hot summer days, itchy, sticky, horrid work that we recall as such but also with a certain joy. Baling twine is strong fiber that runs across years and generations.
It also, when used in concert with duct tape, can fix about anything.
I read of someone complaining about equipment always breaking in the middle of the haying season and while it does seem to happen it took another’s words for me to have that palm-to-the-forehead moment of well, of course it doesn’t break when it’s sitting idle all winter.
It is indescribably beautiful at my house in the late afternoon, an absolutely perfect July end-of-day. The yard is green and thick, bare spots finally grown in, albeit with weeds, the trees as lush as they will be until next year. I do not go out and look at the north lot but know it is being cut by the tracks though the tall grass in the old gap-way. Sure enough, I meet the neighbor when I am reluctantly on my way out again, and think of all the “as happy as” clichés and realize there is none to match “as happy as the neighbor on a tractor.”
He pulls into the brushy weeds, easy to do when driving a big tractor, and he waves gleefully. He still has the sickle bar attached, the long arm that is lowered and slices grass close to the ground. I think they, these guys on tractors, live for this short season, this manual labor that is done when it seems the worst possible weather for it.
The cut swath down the center of the north lot is the kingdom of Autumn’s puppyhood. She came to me in the fall and the grass had not much grown from the — that year especially — late summer cutting. It was a great place for a pup, wide and open enough for her to run in ever increasingly wide circles, yet surrounded by brushy weeds that would be no obstacle today, but were when she more needed boundaries.
Now that it is cut she is back out there, often, I find when I call her. It is filled with possibilities, that lot, deer lurk around the edges, and while the grass lies drying swallows swoop, devouring in flight insects that inhabit the air above the hay.
We are in the most finite of seasons, this precious summer when a hot day falls away with a gentle breeze lifting the curtains away from the open windows and brushing my skin with cool velvet. The noise of beach traffic on the Mansion Road is erased by the sound of the sea filling my house with its night music.
Now, it is late and I am tired but I do not want to sleep and cede any of this time, as dear as winter sunlight.