Sweat, Grit, And Barnyard Smells

Upper Peninsula, Michigan
July, ‘80

Sitting on the steps of an old rickety house that was badly in need of a paint job,
I was beside myself wondering what to do next. Out back was a falling down
barn, and on the other side of that was the hay field. I was ready to leave when
out from the hay field came this roaring motorcycle headed in my direction.
Once the guy on the motorcycle realized there was someone sitting on his back
porch, I was warmly greeted. After introductions (his name was also Guy),
I explained to him that with a little coxing, his mother had gotten me
to volunteer to help him put some hay in the barn. He just chuckled
and said, “Yeah, she’s always looking after me, but I can handle it.
And anyway, as you can see we don’t have a barn.”

I felt uncomfortable. Guy was right, what there was left of a barn was good
only for firewood. There I was, in the middle of nowhere, talking to this guy
who didn’t seem to need my help and he wasn’t surprised to see me. It was as if
I was just another “no name” his mother had sent him for the purpose of which
I could not even imagine. I wanted to get on my bike and ride out of there,
but I bit my lip and said, “Well, here I am. What do you want me to do?”
As long as you’re here,” he said, “I’ll go get the tractor and we’ll stack some hay.” And then back into the field he went on his motorcycle. Minutes later,
he was back, pulling a wagon-load of hay with his tractor.

Once I started working, I felt much better. Guy turned out to be a
nice guy afterall. What I originally took to be slow wittedness
wasn’t. Guy talked slow, even slurred his words, but he was not
“slow.” He did have a hard time with why I was there, though. My
desire to get a feel for what it’s like to be a farmer just didn’t
make sense to him, but I couldn’t fault him for that. Before we were
through, we had stacked 150 bales of hay, and secured the stack with
plastic. The hay was protected from the long, cold, windy, Upper
Peninsula winters by using tires strapped together with ropes (and in
some cases chains) to hold down the plastic. “I always seem to lose
the weather side,” Guy exclaimed, “but the rest of the hay, or hopefully
most of it, stayed good throughout the winter.” The hot, very hot
afternoon sun saturated me in sweat, grit, and the smell of barnyard.
I was not disappointed. The conversation that came next, though, was the
best part of my visit to the Kitzman farm.


About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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