On a damp, cold, morning in January, Kelly has just arrived for work at Rustic Farm. The breakfast sky is overcast, the hedges and trees are leafless, and underfoot there is mud. The concrete yard is spotted with large dark puddles. England in winter feels like a grey place.
Even though Kelly is wearing her quilted waterproof coat, heavy jeans, a woolly hat, and black wellington boots, she has stuffed her hands in her pockets. The wet cold is seeping through to her bones and she’s only been out of the car five minutes.
She hurries to the storeroom and measures out food for the calves. As soon as they see the buckets, they rush to the feed barrier and jostle for space at the trough, churning the air with their hot snorting breath, reaching out their long, coarse pink tongues to lick at the cascading trail of feed. The calves chew contentedly, snuffling mouthfuls before raising their heads and chewing, open-mouthed, their eyes blissfully half-closing.
Kelly goes to the barn and climbs the ladder up the haystack. She is so close to the corrugated tin roof that she has to crouch. The air up there is dry. Kelly roles five bales off the edge.
Back at the manger, she hefts a bale in and cuts the strings holding it together. The hay falls into fragrant sections. Kelly fluffs up the stems and spreads them out. She makes a cloud of soft greens for the calves to sort through. The scent of sweet meadow grasses wafts up, and for an instant, evokes the memory of a hot June afternoon stacking bales. She pauses, picks out a stem and chews it. It is faintly, dryly sweet.
A calf coughs, vigorously. A shower of dung sprays through the rungs of the gate by Kelly’s feet. She laughs, throws away the soggy hay stem, gathers up the cut bale strings and goes to fetch a shovel.
Maybe this is a bit corny, but sometimes a metaphor says it best.
So this week, as I was helping with the hay making, absorbing the scents of sun drenched herbs and grasses, I was thinking about that moment when the bale gets opened. What makes good hay is the quality of the herbage that will go into it, and the care taken to cut it at the right moment, then to dry it quickly and thoroughly before it gets baled.
It seems to me, that what I aim for in my writing is the same thing. I too must judge the perfect moment to cut into and out of my story, and use the best words I can to evoke the essence of a time and place. I aspire for my reader to forget, just briefly, everything except the story I am telling. Because those were the sorts of story that set me dreaming of becoming a writer.