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Making Hay ()

The following story was in the paper the other day:

Number Of U.S. Farms Smallest Since 1850
By Barbara Hagenbaugh (2/02/99)


Technology and massive consolidation in agriculture has squeezed the number of
farms in the United States to its smallest level since before the Civil War, the
U.S. Agriculture Department said Monday.

There were 1.912 million farms in 1997, down slightly from 1992. The number of
farms is the lowest since 1850 when 1.4 million farms were counted in the United
States, Agriculture Department officials said.

I mention this in connection with Verlyn Klinkenborg's amusing memoir "Making Hay". Klinkenborg worked on his Uncles' farms during the summers when he was growing up. Now, a grown man, he goes back to help them with the season's haying.

Let's get one thing straight, right off the bat, Verlyn Klinkenborg loves hay; I mean loves it. Sometimes you actually get the feeling that he's sorry he wasn't born a bovine:

    The smell of newmown hay is an agricultural talisman that survives in our language even though
    most of its speakers are now pent in populous cities far from 'The smell of grain, or tedded grass, or
    kine,/Or Dairy.' Alfalfa is not the antique hay crop of peasant Europe, but its odor is rich enough to
    compete with that of the freshly scythed mix of grasses in traditional hays. Mowing into those
    pockets of scent brought to mind long hours of vacation driving when, in the early sixties, my
    family came home to Iowa after fishing in Colorado. Sleep was disturbed only when we slowed for
    the Nebraska towns where they dehydrated alfalfa in great flamelit plants and the night filled with
    the overpowering heaviness of the crop. That this was only the odor of cattle feed seemed
    outrageous, then and now.


    As if to make some private point about means and ends, God gave kine four stomachs and a diet of
    hay, and he made them chew each mouthful twice. To man he gave a single stomach and an
    indiscriminate palate, but he made him take his alfalfa as pre-macerated pellets or plastic-coffined
    tussocks of sprouts. Man seems omnivorous until you consider the things he can't digest, like tender
    oak-leaf shoots or lime-green lichen or sweet-smelling greenchop. It's one of those facts of life: if
    you want to eat alfalfa baled in early bloom, you have to be built like a fermentation vat on hooves.

That kind of amusing prose, a wealth of information about alfalfa and a wry look at a vanishing way of life, all combine to make this a unique and worthwhile read.


Grade: (C+)


See also:

Verlyn Klinkenborg Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Verlyn Klinkenborg
-ESSAY: Verlyn Klinkenborg on Writing More Clearly (Verlyn Klinkenborg, July 22, 2022, Lit Hub’s The Craft of Writing newsletter)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: The Forest’s-Eye View: Two new books investigate the ways in which deforestation affects climate change, and climate change affects forests. (Verlyn Klinkenborg, July 21, 2022, NY Review of Books)

Book-related and General Links:
    -ESSAY : Marking Walt Disney's Centennial (VERLYN KLINKENBORG, December 6, 2001, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of 'The Last Canyon': John Wesley Powell's Paradise of Loss by John Vernon (VERLYN KLINKENBORG, NY Times Book Review)
    -ATTRA: Appropriate Technology Transfers for Rural Areas
    -In the Cattleyards, San Antonio (poem by VK)
    -PROFILE : The Private Life of Kathy Nguyen (Verlyn Klinkenborg, November 8, 2001, NY Times)
    -PROFILE: "Rural Stories, Urban Listeners": Whether raising pigs or writing editorials for The New York Times, Verlyn Klinkenborg searches for life's profound and simple lessons. (James Norton, 12.11.02, Flak)
    -REVIEW: of Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg (James Norton, Flak)
   -REVIEW: of The Rural Life By Verlyn Klinkenborg (Dan Cryer, SF Chronicle)

    -The Outside Canon
    -The Small Farm Resource