It is haying time up here in the Shires. Neighbors who grow and need to stock hay call you, sometimes with just a few hours notice, to come and help load bales of hay into barns for the serious winters here in Washington County. As the shepherd of a flock of 14, a dairymaid of 2 goats, and rider of one fine draft horse I go through over 200 bales a winter keeping my animals bedded and fed through the howl and growl of winter. And that means sweating through 90-degree days moving hundreds of fifty-pound bales without the help of tractors, hay elevators, or super heroes. We just have our gloved palms, a strong community, and our stubbornness to load a barn.
The family that keeps most of my farm’s hay is six miles away. The farmer there also raises sheep and horses, but only keeps the horses over the winter. The flock of four to six feeder lambs she raises to the hog-get stage and then has them slaughtered for winter. Sounds like she doesn’t need much hay, right? Well, she does. Her horses are large, percheron and a warmblood, standing 17 and 18 hands. She feeds out 2 bales a day when the wind blows. Do the math and you quickly see how important a heavy stock load of hay is when looking at our 100 days of summer. I have friends near lake Placid that start feeding hay in early October and can’t stop until June. California, we are not.
So hay is life here. It is what grows all summer, and is cut and stored in advance. It takes a lot of friends willing to sweat and toil at great length. I am proud of the community here, just of friends and farmers, who are not Heathen but understand this import and respect it. You drop plans for haying. You are there because how much it means to the people who depend on livestock to pay the bills. Our stock are fed on borrowed sunlight, put away in these giant cathedrals of barns, and we go there to take our efforts out every snowy day to show our animals that we thought ahead. Here is some August, dig in.
It has me thinking a lot about community outside our Kindreds and households. How many people of so many different faiths and backgrounds are needed to keep one small farm going? A lot. And even though I am just one person I am needed by these people as much as they need me. The other day I was the only person who wasn’t in their fifties and sixties helping load bales. I am no athlete, but I am strong and that was needed as much as the ability to pay the hay farmer was by head of that household.
There is a Messianic Jewish Commune down the road and our Kindred is working on a Volunteer Day with them soon. I barter and aid their farm whenever I can, because we share livestock, equipment, and stories. We trade our breeding rams for our Scottish Blackface Sheep to keep our animals healthy. My dairy goats are from their stock. They process my pastured chickens. I set up appointments for their sheep shearing. We work as a community because without each other we would suffer. There is no self in self-reliant living.
Online and at Moots and Gatherings in person, Heathens tend to focus on talk about tribe, lore, ritual, and reputation. These are fine topics, but I wish there was more talk on how we as Heathens interact with and work alongside our communities outside Asatru. Here in an agricultural place, it is demanded that we get along. Like the old saying goes up here, “You don’t talk about politics when you need help installing storm windows”
photo from last year's haying at a local farm with the local ag community