Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Ready to Hit the Hay...
Day Three, or A Hard Day’s Night:
After my first killer day of the hay harvest, we went right back at it. After all, there are 8 hectares of hay-bearing hills just waiting for us and our wooden rakes!
I could tell that the hay harvesting was already getting better. The fields weren’t quite as steep this time, and again there was a cool breeze to counteract the effect of the sun. Despite the improvement, I was still dead tired by the afternoon and took a much-needed afternoon nap, for which I collapsed like a fallen log on the sofa and didn’t stir again until I heard my name being called out with an Austrian accent.
The last leg of the day’s hay harvest was another 4-hour stretch harvesting the hay we’d turned before lunch; it was already arranged in rows across the field, so all I had to do was rake up the loose hay behind the harvesting truck. Since it was just me and the farmer this time, it took a long, long time for me to rake that entire field by myself. It wasn’t too bad—it was active work, but I was getting faster and faster and was now able to settle into a rhythm. I had to remind myself to look up and out at the mountains every once in a while, as it was easy to become intensely focused and get tunnel vision.
It was long, hard work, and I was glad when we were done. I was tired, sweaty, and starting to understand those African children you see on TV who don’t bother to wipe the flies from their faces. Perhaps it’s the sweat that the flies are drawn to, but I had a swarm of them about my head and it just got to the point where I had to ignore them…unless one of them flew into my ear, in which case I did indeed lift my hand from the rake to swat it! As I went in for soup, I was looking forward to a nice, quiet evening with a book…
When I got in for dinner, there was talk of a music festival going on in the next village over. The farmeress suggested the son take me as well—after all, I could see some authentic folk music from the region, and all of the young available Tyrolean farmer boys would be there! It was only my third day on the farm, but she was already quite intent on finding me a Tyrolean farmer husband before I left. The invitation to go along was extended to me along with the warning that the son may stay out rather late, so there’s no telling when I’d make it home.
The last thing I wanted to do was go out. All I really wanted was to take a long hot bath (impossible—alas, no bath tub) and read a book and go to bed early (possible). But then I realized that this was a chance to get out and possibly meet people. I’d be in Tyrol for a month, without friends, without transportation to get out and see things…due to my hermitical existence, the possibly of making some friends or at least socializing with other people was tantalizing. So I agreed to go.
As we approached the festival tent, it was clear that all the young people from the surrounding villages had come together for this festival. We entered the tent and saw that to the side were beer and food stands, in the middle were rows and rows of tables, and all the way on the other end was a stage with a local folk music band. To my surprise, there was also a dancing area packed with young people dancing the polka to the music of the band:
In that great big tent full of people I immediately felt lonely. I missed my friends and was suddenly confronted with the fact that I am not the kind of person who can go into a place like that and make 100 new friends—I really on my friends to make new friends! So I hovered around the people I came with, not talking much; when I did, the Tyrolean dialect was exacerbated by the loud music, and this made communication next to impossible anyway. Finally, when I met the occasional new acquaintance, I was forced to say, “I’m sorry…I understand only Styrian dialect or High German. Take your pick!” One guy said he didn’t like either of those choices. One guy said he’d rather speak English instead!
By 11 pm I was ready to hit the hay. (I KNOW!! I’ve been saving this one…:) ) But it wasn’t until 3:30 am that the farmer and farmeress showed up—they’d been at a party themselves and wondered if they should come and rescue me from the festival. Naturally, one of the first questions asked of me was if I’d met any nice young Tyroleans. No, I told her, not yet. She looked a little disappointed and indicated to the bar around us. This would be the perfect place to do it, she said. I smiled…if you can’t find love with an oompah band playing, where can you find love?!
Pretty soon they got swept up in the festivities themselves, and it wasn’t until 5 am that we found ourselves leaving the tent. After a hard day’s hay harvest and then an all-night party, I was beyond exhausted. I finally collapsed into bed at 5:30 am, only to have an 11 am wake-up call and another hay harvest awaiting me.
Day Four, or The Farmer’s Cure for a Hangover:
Getting up at 11 am was a trial. But at least it was a trial for everyone. I was feeling weak and zapped of energy still, since I hadn’t really recovered from the previous day’s harvest, and I was wary of working in the fields with so little sleep and physical energy. However, I was surprised as I started to work how I quickly became energized and started to feel normal again. And from what I observed in the fields, this work seemed to be a farmer’s cure for a hangover.
The field work was getting much better. I felt like I was getting the hang of it and getting much faster. The blisters on my hands continued to form and pop, but I kept working through it all. (At last count, I had 9 blisters…I haven’t had that many since gymnastics in middle school!) We worked on and off with breaks until 8:30 pm. As we neared the end of the evening and were again raking behind the hay collecting truck, the farmeress urged me on to rake faster, saying I just had to make the effort. But it didn’t seem quite that simple. And I didn’t want to make the effort—it was the end of the day—the hottest day of the year in Tyrol thus far—and I was starting to fade. But I forced myself to make the effort and I was able to almost keep up with the farmeress herself!
A Note on Standards: I learned that, on the farm, I either have to lower my standards or assimilate. My parents (and childhood friends) can tell you that I did not grow up in an orderly or sterile environment. Our house was often in various stages of chaos, and I know that my parents felt bad that the house wasn’t always looking presentable. But farm folk have different priorities than city slickers, and I could see that immediately. The kitchen was a difficult place to be, since things like the hay harvest took priority over cleaning up. And because it’s a farm, there are flies everywhere—on old food, new food, the people eating the food…
Likewise, my standards had to change when I was out in the field. Out there I saw all kinds of bugs and insects and flying things, and again, I had to ignore them. For the family, they’re a part of life. They don’t even notice the creepy crawlies, whereas my reaction has always been to jump, scream, swat, flee, or a combination thereof. But I can’t do that here. On the farm, they outnumber me. On the farm, I have to work side by side with them. I can’t let the five mosquitoes on my jeans bother me, even though I’ve learned that a “protective layer of clothing” doesn’t really exist. I must barely take notice when a neon green spider crawls up my leg. The flies will swarm and land where they will, and there will always be a flying beetle in my face. That’s how it works.