We finished up our third harvest of hay one week ago. We did our normal chopping, but for this crop, we also saved some back to bale into round bales for the fresh cows and calves. Dad and Peter also made small square bales. They fit so nicely in the haymow and are easier to throw down the chute to use for the weaned calves in the barn below. What once was looked on as a dreaded task when we were younger becomes a novelty. We do not make thousands of bales; we only unloaded five full loads all said and done. Far less than many other farms. For Ira, Dane, Oliver and Henry (Finley opted out of the fun) it was an exciting challenge. For Peter, Stacy and I, it was a trip back in time to the years we used to spend days unloading these little square muscle makers.
    The first load was not too bad. I was fairly optimistic my body would have some deep seeded memory of how this worked and not cry from lack of use in this manner later. Most days I do not feel that old, but I am not quite as young as I used to be. My internal voice kept nagging me to bend with my knees, and some of the time I obliged. Bending straight over was a teeny bit faster it seemed. Stacy and I worked on the wagon, leaving Peter and Jose Luis to sweat it out in the mow together. I think one of the most crucial things when unloading hay is to develop a rhythm. I love the repetitive sound of the bale crashing to the elevator to hitch a ride up into the depths of the mow. We set up a bale at the prime location to be a rest and grab spot. Then we took turns grappling the bales from the end of the wagon to the bale, setting it down on top and making it easier for the person putting them on the elevator. With our system, the person putting them on the elevator did not have to bend to pick up a new bale; turn, grab, turn, thunk on the elevator. Of course, some of the bales had much more thunk than others, and they occasionally jumped off to the other side due to overzealous tossing. I stopped keeping track of how many missed their mark when I was putting them on.
    The guys came out of the mow, dripping with sweat, yet smiling with the knowledge of a job well done. There is a specific summertime cologne that can only be brought on by the combination of throwing freshly baled alfalfa on a day well past 80 degrees. We were all ripe with it. That, and we had a good case of the itches from the floating hay chaff that secured itself at the nape of our sweaty necks. Stacy and I had the added bonus of hay-filled boots due to wearing our air-conditioned blue jeans and overalls. The first load was considered a warm-up. The bales in that load were the perfect weight to make us feel like we were professionals at this. Over the course of the next three days, we unloaded four more loads. Each one was progressively heavier. Dew-laden bales were made in haste just in case the rain came. They desperately needed another drying day. That was not to be had.
    Peter and I worked on one load, with no one on the receiving end, to empty the wagon for the next load. When all that was left on the wagon was the loose slabs, we headed to treat the pavilion calves. The bouncing movements of a near empty hayrack have not changed over the years. However, the spots that jiggle on a 38-year-old’s body who has had four babies are far more numerous than I remember from the last time taking this ride. I kicked the hay off and listened to the puffing of the shiny exhaust from the Farmall 200. Then I thought about how riding the hay wagon while it was moving was the fun job when we were young.
    The problem with emptying a wagon with no one in the mow is you make the same mess in the mow that you had on the wagon. We waited until the following day when we had a brute force crew of Ira, Dane and Oliver with us. They pushed and unearthed bales with us. Though too heavy for them to carry, they could roll and pack them into their appropriate pattern in the haymow. For Ira, stacking hay in the mow was proof he was getting stronger. I remembered that feeling of power, knowing you could pitch a bale to the next guy. That feeling was there for the first few loads; then was replaced by exhaustion and rubber arms. All of the balance Oliver and Dane have perfected from climbing trees was put to good use as they knocked bales down for Stacy and I to put on the elevator. We shouted instructions above the clatter of the elevator, no doubt the same ones we were given eons ago.
    Don’t kick a bale without telling us. Make sure we are looking. We do not want to get hit in the head. Not so far back. Start in the front.
    Henry made it on the wagon with only a few bales left, and all four of the boys finished with sweaty brows and accomplished smiles.
    As Peter and I flipped the switch for the last load, he asked why no one else was coming down to help us. Then, without missing a beat, answered himself as he grinned at me.
    “Guess they wanted to give you writing material.”
    Indeed. Indeed.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (11), Dane (9), Henry (4) and Cora (adventurous crawler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.