View from a Prairie Home

By Hege Herfindahl, Columnist

As I get older, time passes faster. I know this is just a perception, but one that is shared by many old folks like me; winter comes and then spring and summer. It’s like it happens in a heartbeat. I feel I want to reach out and stop time. “Don’t move too fast, stop and let me enjoy the days, the moments. What each season has to offer us here on the edge of the wild, beautiful prairie,” I say. Like time really can listen. Feeble-minded is another sign of my age. Oh well, talking aloud to myself is permissible here where nobody else but the ever-present prairie wind can hear me. 

So, suddenly, it is the season for cutting hay. My husband, Grant, who for years toiled the soil and also had a herd of cattle, tells me that this year, the prairie grasses are slow. Maybe because of the cold spring. But now, it is being cut around our grove. Not by Grant, but by Dave, a young man who rents our pasture and hay meadows. Grant no longer farms and thus has time to mow our huge lawn. But that belongs to another story. I was inspired to write about hay.

There is a smell that lingers in the air, the smell of newly cut hay. It is a sweet smell. A smell full of summer and sunshine. And, as usual, smells trigger memories. Of a childhood spent on the very tip of Southern Norway. Three of my grandparents grew up here. My one grandfather had a hardware store in the southern city of Mandal. It was an old-fashioned store where each type of nail or screw had its special tiny drawer. He also sold candy, little chocolates that he put in tiny triangular paper bags. When I was a little girl, I thought he had candy just for me. But it was, of course, for the customers’ children to keep them content while their parents thought about nails, hammers and what type of other hardware they were to buy.

But I was to write about hay. South of Mandal, on a small peninsula, my other grandfather built a cabin. It was surrounded by the North Sea on three sides. I spent all my childhood summers here. The cabin was just a few feet from the sea. There were beaches and the sea was full of shells and crabs. Lots of treasures for a young girl to collect. But my favorite part of summers spent by the sea was the little village just beyond the isthmus that connects the island to the mainland. Tregde is home to roughly twenty tiny farms. Around the village were fields. Since the climate here is so harsh, most of the fields that didn’t grow potatoes, had hay. In addition, people also raised hens, chickens, pigs and a few milk cows. I would make friends with the children in the village and we would run around all day, in the woods, on the beach and helping with the animals. It was heaven for me, a kid from the big city. 

Being so close to the ocean, it rains often there, so after the hay was cut, it was hung to dry on wires supported by poles put up in a type of X, supposedly to provide better support for the drying hay. The whole village smelled of fresh hay. It was a very big deal to pick the right day for taking the hay off the hesjer and with huge forks put it on a wagon to be put in the barn. If you let the hay hang too long and it rained, it would become moldy. The same would happen if you took it off the hesjer too early. So we would all pray for dry weather and then we all would help to put the hay on the hay wagons. 

A Norwegian barn has a loft. You drive on an incline with the hay into the loft and then there is an opening, where you tip the wagon and the hay falls into the barn. It lays there loose. This is, again, to avoid mold on the hay. But it is ideal for sleeping. Have any of you slept in hay? It is a favorite childhood memory. To lie in the hay with your friends, chat and then sleep and wake up with hay in your hair and then throw the hay on your friends and laugh so hard your stomach hurts.

So now, smelling the hay, I smile and wonder if at Tregde, where I haven’t been for quite a few years, even though I am part (1/7th) owner of a cabin there, if the children still are allowed to sleep in the hay.