Summer is in full swing on our little island under the Crazy Mountains. The green gold is now hip height and higher in some places, our calves are growing and are wild with life, and suntans and cowboy sweat is a daily occurance under the Montana sun. The days of calving season, branding season and planting season are past us until next year… enter haying season.
Haying season is a process of planting, waiting, praying, growing, waiting, praying, cutting, praying, raking, baling, praying, waiting, counting, hauling, stacking (and if you get a second or third cutting) repeating the process, minus planting. Praying is generally a result of weather, or lack thereof, and other acts of God, including grasshoppers, mechanical failure, timing, market prices, and, well for lack of better word, luck. As far as my Cowboy goes, it’s as he put it – “alot of time in a tractor, going around and around”. This season is as vital to the health of the ranch as any other for two reasons: 1) you have to have hay to feed cows, especially Mama cows with growing babies in their bellies, and 2) to manage the health of the land against fire and under-grazing.
Hay season is the time that my cowboy temporarily hangs up his spurs and wool shirts and instead dons a cap and hiking boots. On a rare occasion, Cowboy will put on a short sleeve t-shirt, which reveals the ultimate mark of a cowboy, the “farmer’s tan”. Most people would consider a “farmer’s tan” the tan lines one would get from forgetting sunscreen on a sunny afternoon, a red ring around the neck or a shade difference between upper arm and lower. No, you can tell a Montana Cowboy by his tan, or lack thereof. Dark brown face and hands, pearly white everywhere else, the man looks like a Apaloosa horse, especially when you add in the red bumps and scratches all over from the misquitoes. Nothing better tells the story than the Ringling Five in their song “Rancher’s Legs”.
Most evenings during hay season, I make dinner for Cowboy and deliver it to him in the hay fields. Sometimes something like flank steak and baked potatoes, other times a simply sandwich, to be washed down with fresh iced tea or a cold beer. I load up the food into the truck, carefully balancing items so as to prevent the enevitable spill. Usually I find him just before dusk, the sun just touching the Bridgers off in the distance. He is there, in the tractor, with baler hitched up and humming. Driving through a hay field is not as easy or smooth as one might think, so I take it slow. Of course, I always seem to hit the largest hole in the county, sending food and drink flying and me cussing. Cowboy shuts down his tractor and swings out of the cab. A quick kiss and then dinner on the tailgate, watching the sunset. Did I mention I love haying season?