Here we are in mid July, it’s hot and it’d dry and there ain’t much mushroom activity happening out there. This has been our weather pattern for the last few years, cool and wet until July and then “wham,” heat and drought for 60-90 days. This is ideal weather for the garden and for the farmers wanting to get in a good hay crop.
Yesterday, Christine and I ambled up Tyson road to get some eggs from a local farmer. Half way up the road we got the scent of fresh cut hay, laying in nice neat rows, drying in the morning sun. It’s funny what triggers memories, for me it is often smells that do it. That smell of drying hay, walking up the dusty road in the intense morning sun of July took me back to summer time as a kid growing up in Saskatchewan.
Every summer from the time I was 12 until I left for the west coast when I was 20, I hauled bales and pitched hay. Most farmers in the 60’s bailed their hay in the rectangular form, not the big round bales you see now. I would usually get a job with one of our many neighbors, as my dad often “volunteered” our labor to his customers.
The job I got was pulling the bales off the back of the baler. I would stand on a sled that was attached to the back of the baler that was being pulled by a tractor. As the bales came off, I stacked them in a pile. I put three on the bottom row, then two and a last one on top. I would then grab a heavy metal crow bar from the back of the baler,jam it in the ground through the slats of the sled, in front of the stack of bales. As the sled moved forward, the bales would slide off the back of sled and be left in the field. I had to time it so that just as the pile hit the ground and started to slide off the sled, I would pull the crow bar out of the ground.
Now that sounds easy enough, but you have to remember, you are riding behind the baler, it dusty as hell and also hot as hell. The sled you are riding on has no wheels, it’s just sliding over the ground, which is usually not to even and is full of rocks. Also the bales are coming off pretty quickly so you need to keep up.
Occasionally the crow bar got stuck in the ground and it would yank me off the sled. Meanwhile the bales keep coming.
The other thing is the bales weigh between 40 and 50 pounds, especially the ones made of sweet clover. Sweet clover when dry has pretty rough stems which will scratch you up, so you need to wear gloves, long sleeved shit and long pants. You do this all morning from 8 am or earlier, until mid day when you stop for “dinner”.
In Saskatchewan, what the rest of Canada calls lunch, they call dinner, and what we call dinner they call supper. Lunch is what you have in the evening, when friends have dropped by and you have played a couple of hands of Troika. “Dinner” in the field is one of those things that you have to experience.
Usually the farmers wife has driven out to the field and parked in a nice shady spot, and brought out the food. This could be sandwiches made with fresh homemade bread and slabs of bologna or Prem. It could also be home fried chicken with creamed new potatoes with dill; pickles; green onions; sliced cucumbers in sour cream;poppy seed cake or Saskatoon and rhubarb pie, doused with fresh sweet cream. All this would be washed down with cups of sweet black tea. Dinner usually was taken leisurely, reclining like Romans on a blanket, but soon you were back at it until you finish the field.
By late afternoon you break for a drink of water and roll a smoke if you have them, unhook the baler and hook up the hay rack and go out and start loading the bales. You keep loading that rack until it seems it will take no more with out spilling. Now you climb up on the top of the pile and lay back and catch that wonderful breeze as the boss pulls the rack back to the yard. There the work continues with unloading and stacking the bales once again in another giant stack beside the barn. There is an art to staking bales so they don’t fall over and they shed water so they don’t get moldy over the fall the winter.
It was hard physical labour, chucking those bales all day long. The pay at the time seemed pretty good at $1.50 an hour, however things were much cheaper then. A bottle of pop ( soda for the rest of you) cost 12 cents a bottle;a pack of smokes 42 cents and gas was 39 cents a gallon- translated into today, less than 10 cents a liter.
There were still people at the time using horses for field work, and one summer I helped a neighbor do it the old fashioned way. My neighbor was a widow, who to me at the time looked ancient. Her hair grey, her face deeply lined and tanned from years of working in the fields. Yet she was lean and strong and could keep going all day. She had false teeth, but like many farmers I knew then, she only put them in on Sundays when she went to church. She always seemed to have a cigarette hanging from her lower lip, stuck there, smoldering away.
She had an old horse, I can’t remember it’s name, but for the purposes of this story we will call him Billy. Billy got harnessed to the hay rack , we loaded our pitchforks, my neighbor picked up the reins and we headed off to the hay field. When we got there, we jumped off and the horse walked slowly along the windrows of raked hay. As we walked along beside the rack, one on each side, we would scoop up the hay with our pitchforks and throw it on the rack.
The horse would move forward and then stop every few feet, to give us time to load the rack. No one said a thing to the horse, it just seemed to know what to do. When the rack was piled high, my neighbor said to Billy… ‘Home boy” and off he went, us walking behind, straight to the barn.
When we got there he stopped right in front of the door to the hayloft. My neighbor climbed up easily to the top of the rack and told me to go into the loft. She then began throwing large forkfuls of hay into the door. I shifted the hay to the back of the the loft and we kept doing this until all the hay was in and the loft was full.
The smell of that fresh hay in the loft was the same as the smell of the hay lying in the field up Tyson Road… memory triggers.
So what does this have to do with mushrooms in a mushroom blog? Not too much other than this was also the time of year that my dad would begin to head into the “bush” to get his mushrooms. This time of year would be the time for ‘Kozzaree” or Red Top’s… also know as Leccinum testaceoscabrum.
I have yet to find any of these growing here on the coast. They do, but what I have found are King Boletes and Admirable Boletes.
What have I seen in the back 40? I have seen one Amanita gemmata and two Agaricus augustus, dried and shriveled and being consumed by sow beetles. Too dry and too hot for them
Have you seen anything yet? If you have let me know and send me a picture so Ican post it here.
Rain and cooler temperatures is what we need, but that can wait for several more weeks… lets enjoy a bit of this heat for a while.
By the way, the ocean water temp in the Salish Sea is steadily getting warmer. As of two days ago it was above 20C… each day it creeps up a degree or two.
Hope to see you sometimes in the woods or on the beach.