The Art of Making Hay – Cutting

So if irrigating your field is like a writer’s life, then we must move to the next act of ranching which is cutting. I should mention that this process I’m writing about is for alfalfa. That’s the crop we always grew on the ranch in Nevada, so it’s what I know best.

Cutting the hay takes place a long time after irrigating, usually several weeks. The alfalfa has to have time to grow and the land time to dry out. Swathers are large pieces of equipment which you don’t want to get stuck in the mud. You start by cutting a row or two around the whole field. After you go around the field, you start near a levee and begin cutting the hay in the section. The rotating cylinder full of tines takes in the hay and pushes them toward the blades which cut the hay. A long row of hay is spit out neatly behind the swather. You go around and around in circles making your way into the center until all the hay in the section of the field is down and move onto the next.

A swather from behind.  You can see the row of hay it's spitting out as well as the alfalfa crop growing off to the right of the photo. That's my brother standing on the tractor tire. Kids, don't try this at home!  (why is it that I say that often when I see a photo with my brother in it?)

A swather from behind.
You can see the row of hay it’s spitting out as well as the alfalfa crop growing off to the right of the photo.
That’s my brother standing on the tractor tire. Kids, don’t try this at home! (why is it that I say that often when I see a photo with my brother in it?)

How is this like writing? This is like idea gathering. Your brain is the swather going through all the information it has ever been given, It takes it in and chops it down. What it’s spitting out at you is all sorts of ideas for writing. Themes, characters, plot scenarios, all these and more are laid down for you like a clear path. After I have an idea and I’ve played with it a bit, I usually try to come up with some sort of outline. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. I’ve made up a template of The Hero’s Journey and I usually write one or two sentences for each stage. Sometimes I move the stages around. Yes, I follow a formula. That’s my cutting phase.

There is nothing like the smell of fresh cut hay. I remember going and lying down in the cool rows of alfalfa. Okay, so it wasn’t so great if the spot you decided to rest in had aphids and little spiders, but you could end up with ladybugs crawling over you just as easily. Yeah, those were the days.

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