Monday, July 27, 2015

When You Love the Land

When you love the land there are sounds and smells that kindle memories and anticipate experiences. Aside from the pure pleasure of looking at a prospect, a view across fields or rivers or canyons, memories are made and refreshed just by standing still and listening, inhaling, caressing. Woodsmoke on a winter’s day, raindrops on broad green leaves, mist on your skin early in the morning on a summer’s day all recall one to the land, to experiences and to expectations.

If you chance to be around when hay is being made, especially in your own fields, the sweet, woody odor of fresh-cut grass calls up earlier times: summer and living with the land, perhaps. Maybe it simply serves as a call-up for the winter ahead when the hay will unroll as feed or bedding, blanket or insulation for wintering-over plants and animals.

Here we tell the seasons by the smells in the air. Frost and snow are kin but slightly different. One is edged with a sharpness, the other a soft, fleecy kind of smell that warns of harder times coming. Green smells welcome the new season of growth, when we begin thinking of getting the garden ready, and a simple rain will bring the sweetness of spring to the air. In early summer especially, boxwood around the house add both color and scent: a metallic, heavy breath of green.

Most years the smell of boxwood slides into the smell of new mown hay, but some years, this year especially, with daily rains week after week, we have had to wait for haying season to begin. Suddenly, a period of dry weather comes. For three days the sounds and smells rising from our fields are of cutting and raking, baling and loading what should have been gone two months ago. The shoulder-high grass falls to the mower, is raked and made into windrows, gathered into big round bales. Finally the hay is loaded and taken off to a barn or, as is more and more the practice, wrapped in white plastic creating giant caterpillars a hundred feet long.

Now, up on the mountain overlooking the fields, evening comes and with it the silence of tractors parked for the night, of breeze heavy with the smell of new mown hay. The scent will linger for a few days, then gradually change as sun and maybe more rain reawaken the growth mechanism buried in the roots.

Another benchmark of the season has come and gone.

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