A hayfield

By Rod Hunter Guest Columnist

August 21, 2014

I have a hayfield, a dome shaped oval of about four acres. A gravel drive skirts one side and leads to my house. Just in case you’ve been in the city too long, let me define a hayfield. It’s a lot like your front yard, but much larger, and you only have to mow the tall grass twice a year; once in the spring and once in the fall to harvest the hay. Now, I don’t own any large animals that eat hay, so mine gets mowed by a neighbor for his horses. He keeps the hay, and I don’t have to buy the machines; it takes three, a mower, a rake, and a baler. The smell of a freshly mowed hayfield is like what I imagine the whole world smelled like before mathematics was invented. It smells cleaner than the rarified air of a 13,183 foot mountain I hiked to once. After it’s mowed, I just stand in the middle of my hayfield and suck in that wonderful smell. The thick grass stubble left by the machines crunches under foot, almost like chunks of snow and ice. It makes me want to run around and listen to the crunch, crunch, crunch, as if I were eight years old.

Around the field there is typical southern forest of pines, oaks, maples and poplars. The poplars are important for my bees; it’s their largest source of nectar. The pines are there for entertainment. Most evenings in summer, my spouse and I dine on our front porch, so we can enjoy the view of the field. One evening around dusk as we sit and enjoy food, and conversation, we are startled by what we believe is a close gun shot. We both looked up just in time to see a 40 foot pine crash noisily into the field. It did not appear to be a sick tree. Did it break and fall just to entertain us? I think so because this happens three or four times every year, though usually it is dying trees that fall. There is a small grove of maples and poplars about 20 yards from the edge, out toward the middle. Once I hid there and watched two young whitetail bucks mock fight over theoretical herd dominance. They circled and pranced, and made false charges at one another.

My field has been colorfully decorated. Last September I counted over thirty different species of wild flowers in its edging. These feed my photographic addiction. I photographed an Asiatic Day Flower. It’s only one half inch long with two beautiful metal flecked cobalt blue pedals pointing skyward and three downward pointing stamens tipped by yellow anthers. I also photographed a Purple Aster, and a Spiked Lobelia. This last plant was new last year, and had many blooms on a single stalk. Each bloom is about three quarters of an inch long; there are three violet pedals each with a white center. They resemble tiny orchids. A couple of years ago I got a great photo of a Pink Lady Slipper, one of North Carolina’s real native orchids. In good years I can see 50 or more Lady Slippers in the edge of the field. By mid October the flowers are gone, leaves take their place; red maple, yellow poplar and hickory and deep burgundy oak leaves flying in all directions. On windy fall days you can hear a symphony of sound as branches vibrate trying to redirect air flow. On such days I sit on the green grassy knoll near the middle of the field to enjoy this display of sight and sound.

There is much to enjoy in my field. Yet it requires nothing from me beyond simple awareness. Looking at my field, I experience solitude without loneliness and peaceful thoughts without logical reasoning, and I feel totally comfortable. This simplicity cannot be photographed. It cannot be recorded and transported to another time or place. It can only truly be experienced in the present.

Rod Hunter lives in East Bend and is an avid hiker, biker, photographer and nature lover. He is the past State Chairman of the Sierra Club of NC. He currently volunteers as a court appointed children’s advocate for children in foster care as well as with Cancer Services Inc. He is a two time cancer survivor. He has backpacked in Alaska, Arizona, California, Utah, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia, Virginia, and of course NC.