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Sep/Oct 2005 – Staples

Is it a sign of a hollow life that some of my strongest memories are pegged to haying season and water bottles? If so, please don’t tell me. I’m content thinking that hard, sensual recollections of water gulped on a blazing day are great points in favour of farm life.

This year, I took hay off a small leased field. The yield was lousy. No helpers. Just me, dogs Max and Greta, and a poorly rinsed Pepsi bottle filled with water. As I swung the bales onto the truck I recalled how, as a boy, I’d sit with my father in the shade of the John Deere on our northern BC farm and share draughts of cold water from a chilled Miracle Whip jar. Mother cradled that jar from house to field swaddled in towels. The ice cubes clinked in a way they never have since, not even in the most gentrified gin and tonic.

And I remembered how, during my late teens, and again during a scrappy time in my 30s I tolled on haying crews. You knew a man was good if he showed up with his own bottle. From a sometime punk drummer I learned not to drink until I had what he called cotton mouth—very dry.

Three trips in my little truck cleared the field. My shirt stuck to my back. On the last load I crouched behind the stack, in the fingering shadows of the evening sun, and drank. The water was sweet. The dogs lapped from my cupped hand. An important day? Hardly. But such events staple the often tattered and ill-defined experience of our everyday affairs to an exact moment in time.

* * *

As I mentioned in the last issue, Small Farm Canada and/or its writers were up for several journalism awards. The results? Ray Ford picked up a Gold in the How-To category at the National Magazine Awards for “When Barbed Wire Isn’t Enough,” which appeared in the July/August 2004 issue; Jim Romahn’s article on woodlots in the Fall, 2004 issue was named one of the best agricultural articles of the year by the Canadian Business Press; and the magazine was one of four publications in the Best New Magazine category at the Western Magazine Awards. My favorite moment came at the National Magazine Awards gala, when host and veteran journalist Ian Brown said that the true measure of a good how-to story was whether it was torn from the magazine and tacked onto the kitchen fridge. I vowed then to make that a new standard for the magazine’s practical articles. They have to be fridgable.