March 23, 2004


Early hay.

In her 2003 thesis (Archaeological land evaluation: a reconstruction of the suitability of ancient landscapes for various land uses in Italy focused on the first millennium BC), Ester van Joolen placed the invention of haymaking in Italy at roughly 1000-700 BC, associated with the appearance of the first bronze scythe.

Expensive hay art.

A masterpiece by the French Impressionist artist, Claude Monet, from the artist’s iconic Haystacks series, sold for an impressive £10,123,500 at Sotheby’s in London on Tuesday, June 26, 2001 - a new world auction record for a Haystack painting by the artist. We're inclined to dub this the most expensive mistake/missed stack, since the painting sold was 'Meules, Derniers Rayons de Soleil' which Sotheby's should know is a GRAINstack painting (ID 557 in our database).

The casual observer may have regarded the May 5, 2004 sale of Picasso's 'Boy with a Pipe' to an unknown buyer with astonishment at its unprecedented price and apprehension about its uncertain fate. The Greentree Foundation, established by the Whitney family to foster international peace, received $104 million for the painting bought by the Whitneys in 1950 for $30,000. The hay art googler, inadvertently retrieving each of the several thousand stories which mention the middle family name (John HAY Whitney) in relation to art, is annoyed for a different reason.

Hay boats and barges.

Alma is a 112 year old hay barge, operated as a charter vessel by the National Park Service out of San Francisco.

The mural in the Hyde Park, NY, Post Office has, on Panel 4, a painting of a hay boat being loaded.

In Dostoevski’s Crime and Punishment, Chapter 2, Part 1, Raskolnikov is asked “have you ever spent a night on a hay barge, on the Neva?”

In The Village Romeo and Juliet by Frederick Delius, the hero and heroine commit suicide by floating away on a hay barge and then pulling the plug. Based on the 1856 German story, by Gottfried Keller, Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe.

The Dawn was built in Maldon in Essex in the late 1890s for James Keeble, a local hay and straw merchant and barge owner, by a jobbing shipwright, Walter Cook. She was launched in 1897, from the North Wall Yard, close to the Maldon Hythe Quay. The Dawn was built for the stackie trade, taking hay as horse feed to London and returning with wheat. Stackie barges had a very wide beam so they could carry a stack on deck together [with] a shallow draft to traverse the creeks and [waterways] of the East Anglian farming communities.” In the 1930s, the depression and the development of the lorry trade reduced the demand for hay barges, although some were used during WWII, and a few, including the Dawn, were used as lighters. On her way to evacuate troops from Dunkirk, the Dawn collided with a tug. Used as a timber barge in the 1950s, and then, in 1965, restored and used as a charter boat for birdwatchers, photographers and other tourists. Since deteriorated and needs 250k pounds to make her seaworthy again.

In December,1998, Indiana hay donated for relief of drought and flood stricken Oklahoma farmers was shipped by barge from Mount Vernon.
“Hay has been pledged by more than 1,200 farmers from more than 40 Indiana counties. Three-thousand round hay bales equal more than 200 semi truckloads of hay--presenting the Hoosier Hay Lift with unique delivery challenges. Barges were chosen as the transportation source because each barge can move as many as 30 truckloads of hay at a time. The Ohio/Mississippi River system links southern Indiana to Oklahoma via the Arkansas River…The hay will make an 18- to 20-day journey on the Inland Waterway System to the Port of Muskogee, Okla., where the hay will be offloaded and distributed to farmers… More than 18,000 square bales also will be transported on trucks during the next month to both Oklahoma and Texas.”

Hay database oddities.

Laura Wilson whose grand pictures of Hutterite hay appear in ID 2274-2281 is also the mother of Owen and Luke. Elsewhere in the hay database is a painting by Humphrey Bogart's mother. Is there a pattern here? Some have speculated that little Humphrey was the model for her Little Boy Blue.

Hay festivals.

Amirault's Hill, Yarmouth County
"This one-day festival educates both locals and visitors about the farming practices of the early Acadians. Known for their skill in creating fertile farmland by draining marshlands using a series of dykes known as aboiteau, this Festival demonstrates the traditional Acadian method of harvesting salt hay. Salt hay was so named because the hay took on a salt flavour as it was often under salt water during high tide. Salt hay was said to keep longer and created healthier animals.
"Watch how hay is cut with a scythe, and rolled into a mound. See an elevated platform, called a "straddle" or "staddle" being piled high with salt hay and carefully packed down. A series of logs is then placed over the haystack to protect it from breaking in the wind. The straddle will keep the hay safe and dry and above the high tide waters.
"Following the demonstration, Mass is celebrated on the site of the first Mass celebrated in Amirault's Hill. The evening rounds off with a delicious Acadian supper, and a variety show."

Jenju, Tungshan Township, Taiwan, is said by local residents to be 'the first place in the world to utilize hay as a medium for the creation of works of art. Other than binding hay into bails [sic], as is usual, local farmers have devised a hundred ways of forming the bails and stacks into craftworks that amaze everyone.' See, e.g., ID 2284 in our database.

Among the events held at the Lavallee Centennial Festival in 2004 was a bale-tossing contest.

"A FESTIVAL to celebrate and recognise the age old tradition of hay-making is to take place this weekend in Drumquin, Omagh. The unique festival will look back on the arduous task undertaken by farmers before the advent of silage and round bales. The three day event will run from Friday 23 to Sunday 25, with activities for all members of the family. The highlight of the event will fall on Saturday when the dying art of haymaking will be demonstrated at the GAA grounds." Source: Belfast News Letter (Northern Ireland) July 21, 2004.

At the annual haymaking festival in Rajik, there is a scything competition, in which mowers from all over Europe wear traditional costumes, including straw hats and multicolored, woven bags on their backs. The winner receives a golden scythe.

The Utica, Montana, 'What the Hay' contest won an award for tourist event of the year in 2003. Contestants create hay sculptures which attract visitors from all over the west, as much for their punny titles as their aesthetic appeal. Recently, the noted New York sculptor, Tom Otterness, significantly raised the quality and permanence of the exhibits with his monumental round bale figures.

Hay drying by cocking, tramp-cocking, and rippling.

An 1881 account of several British methods of drying hay was excerpted from the Household Encyclopedia of that year.

Hay humor.

Alimony is like buying hay for a dead horse. Groucho Marx.

“Beef a la mowed: oxen turned out to pasture after the haymaking season.”
C. Grant Loomis. “Traditional American wordplay.” Western Folklore, Vol. 9, No. 2. (Apr., 1950), p. 148.

"'There's nothing like eating hay when you're faint'"…'I didn't say there was nothing better,’ the King replied, ‘I said there was nothing like it.’"Lewis Carroll.

"You will eat, bye and bye, / In that glorious land above the sky; / Work and pray, live on hay, / You'll get pie in the sky when you die. /" Joe Hill.

Kruschev and hay.

An American came as a tourist to the USSR, where he met a Soviet worker who was very poor. The visitor said to the Russian, "Do as I did. I went to the White House in Washington and started eating hay. The President came out and asked why I was doing such a strange thing. I told the President that I was so poor I couldn't afford to buy food. The President helped me, and now I have everything."
The Russian worker went to the Red Square in Moscow and started eating hay. Chairman Khrushchev walked out and asked what was the matter. The worker explained his situation. Khrushchev said, "You better save hay for winter. We expect a hard, cold winter. Now you can eat grass!"

The New York Times Style Magazine, Spring 2006, included the word coinage "locavores": combining "local" and "omnivores" -- "activists who eat not just politically, sustainably and seasonally, but extremely locally. All the foods they consume should be sourced within a 100-mile radius of where they live, as in, 'Locavores are fine and well in Berkeley, but up here in Bismarck, they'd end up eating hay.'" [Amanda Hesser, p. 37]

Hay mythology and proverbs.

"There is an antidote to the calamity of meeting a load of hay—if you turn when it has passed and spit at it all will be well … In Wales we find the superstition is reversed, and a load of hay brings good luck." 1932 C. IGGLESDEN Those Superstitions 106. Cited in the Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions.

"When I first settled in the country I heard that it was the custom that each new rick of hay should be slept on by a young man and a girl, in order to ensure that the hay would prove sweet, and the fiancée pregnant." 1953 R. DUNCAN. Where I Live 123 [Devon] . Cited in the Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions.

"Green gown; to give a girl a" is defined in A Dictionary of Colour: A Lexicon of the Language of Colour by Ian Patterson (London: Thorogood Publishing Ltd, 2004, p. 445). "To have sexual relations with a woman - the green emanating from the grass on which the 'romp in the hay' took place. A slang expression from Elizabethan times."
This expression is also found in Brower's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898).
"Green Gown. A tousel in the new-mown hay. To 'give one a green gown' sometimes means to go beyond the bounds of innocent playfulness.
'Had any dared to give her [Narcissa] a green gown,/The fair had petrified him with a frown… ./Pure as the snow was she, and cold as ice.' Peter Pindar: 'Old Simon.'"
According to a website on wedding traditions, "A green dress is thought to be unlucky unless the bride is Irish. The old expression that a woman has a 'green gown' was used to imply promiscuity, the green meant she had been rolling in grassy fields with other men."
In Robert Herrick's poem "Corinna's Going A Maying" there is another reference to the gown: "And some have wept, and woo'd, and plighted troth,/And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth:/Many a green-gown has been given;/Many a kiss, both odd and even:/Many a glance, too, has been sent/
From out the eye, love's firmament:/Many a jest told of the keys betraying/This night, and locks pick'd:--yet we're not a Maying."

There was a special joy in making hay the old-fashioned way, with horse and cart, rake and fork, working feverishly if the sky began to darken at the approach of a storm. "Nowt makes hay faster than a thunder-clap."
"Letter from the Dales" first published in This is Bradford, 11 Dec 1999

"A Swarm of Bees in May is worth a Cow and a Bottle [bundle] of Hay, whereas a Swarm in July is not worth a Fly." Also, "A Swarm in May is worth a Load of Hay. " Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs.

Haying season and the calendar.

HEYANNIR (July 14 to August 13).
Haymaking: The Old Norse name for this month was heyannir which is translated as "hay-making season" or "haying season."

"All the moneths in the year curse a fair Februeer. s.v. Febrero, When it does not rain in February, there's neither good Grass nor good Rye. If February bring no rain 'Tis neither good for grass nor grain." Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs.


Our first Romanian hay-mate, Anamaria Iuga, is an ethnographer who has collected several myths related to haymaking around Surdesti in the Maramures region. Here are a few of them:

Working with hay is giving rythm to the daily life of Şurdeşti. But one cannot work with hay just anytime, there must be taken into account the holidays which are "angry with the hay."

"While St. Peter walked on earth, there lived in Şurdeşti a very bad man. He didn’t go to church and he didn’t make the sign of cross or taking any notice of the holidays. And this is not all. He urged other people to do as he was doing.
So, once, while St. Peter was walking through the village of Şurdeşti, on a holy Sunday, he saw this man making haystacks. St.Peter got very angry and he cursed the man and transformed the haystacks into rocks. These haystack rocks can be seen even today at the end of Şurdeşti”.
MARIA PODE, IVth form, 2005

On the holiday of Maria Magdalena (22 July) it is "delicate to work with the hay, because it will burn," and along with the barn if it’s put in there, "as it happened to an uncle of mine."
ALEXA FĂT, 78 years, 2006.

"Nor on the days of Ilie (20 July) or Foca (23 July) is it allowed to work with hay: „There was Diacu, a man from our village, he was working with hay at the swamp place as we call it, and it began to rain. And the hay got wet. So Diacu took his wooden pitchfork and said 'Take it and eat it! Take it to your cattle!’. He said this to God Almighty. He said 'Take it to your cattle!’. And then when he went during the winter to take the hay from his fields at his house, there came a wind with whirlwinds, and it took all the hay into the forest, to his cattle. Because the man had said so, take it to your cattle. And God took it there, to the wild goats and that are his cattle. This is the story, as it happened” (ALEXA FĂT, 78 years, 2006).

Shakespearean hay.

Midsummer Night's Dream Act IV Scene I

Methinks I have a great desire to a bottle
of hay: good hay, sweet hay, hath no fellow.

Winters Tale Act IV Scene III

The lark, that tirra-lyra chants,
With heigh! with heigh! the thrush and the jay,
Are summer songs for me and my aunts,
While we lie tumbling in the hay.

King Henry VI Part III Act IV Scene VIII

King Edward IV
And, lords, towards Coventry bend we our course
Where peremptory Warwick now remains:
The sun shines hot; and, if we use delay,
Cold biting winter mars our hoped-for hay.

King Lear Act II Scene IV

'Twas her brother that, in pure
kindness to his horse, buttered his hay.

Macbeth Act I Scene III

First witch
I will drain him dry as hay

Titus Andronicus Act V Scene I

Set fire on barns and hay-stacks in the night,
And bid the owners quench them with their tears.

Hip hop hay.

Amber West referred me to the following Hay lyrics by Crucial Conflict . Interesting that what was called grass in the sixties has now become hay. Go to the full lyrics for all the bawdy details.

Cuz i love to smoke upon hay.
Smokin on
Haaayy in the middle of the barn.
Smokin on
Haaayy in the middle of the barn.
The hay got me goin through a stage
And i just can't get enough.
Smokin everyday
I got some hay
And you know i'm finna roll it up.

Another group, Haystak, has made a few albums having nothing to do with agriculture, among them Car Fulla White Boys.

Peace of hay against the war.

Canadian peace activist Deryk Houston, having created a stone garden sculpture in Baghdad to protest US policies there, designed a much larger image in a cut hayfield in Saanich, British Columbia. Here is his account: 'When the hay was cut and dried, my wife, Elizabeth and I laid out a grid pattern on the field using thin plastic tape in different colours and hundreds of wooden stakes. Friends came to help. We were all thrilled by the beauty of the valley and the scents surrounding us. It took a full day to lay out the grid pattern. Around seven that night, we were exausted from the heat and humidity. I was starting to feel that I had taken on more than I could handle and that we were going to be beaten by time and weather. My thoughts turned to the little boy with leukemia and I continued laying out the sticks with flags that would help us move the hay into position the next day. By 8:00 p.m. the sun was getting low and on the warm breeze we could faintly hear people singing and praying. Against the backdrop of lengthening shadows, the sound drifted across the valley from a little white church nestled in a grove of nearby trees. The next morning at six, we were on the field again. A few hours later we had completed the preparation work needed for the farmer to move the tons of hay with his tractor using the wooden stakes with coloured flags as his guide. The big tractor moved around the field in a delicate dance, shifting the hay into the long rows that formed the design. At the end of the day we had a primitive, mysterious drawing of a Mother and Child formed from the cut and dried, golden hay. Early the next morning as Elizabeth and I walked around the field and quietly surveyed our hard work, we were stopped in our tracks by something totally unexpected. In the silence of the moist hay and the sweet scent of wild roses growing alongside the field, we heard the unmistakable sound of a farm worker chanting an Islamic prayer.'

Strawberries are really hayberries.

"Aelfric translates Latin foenum (faenum) 'hay' by Anglo-Saxon goers or streow, and again by strew (streow, streaw) alone. In other passages, it is impossible to say whether hay or straw is meant, but at least the meaning 'hay' is perfectly established for Anglo-Saxon streaw, and it seems clear that to Aelfric the word strawberry must have meant hayberry. Now the berry that Aelfric knew was the wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca), and the wild strawberry grows chiefly in grassy places and in hay fields. It ripens at the time of the hay
harvest, and the red berries are very frequently found in the stubble under the mown hay. The strawberry is still associated with the raking and the making of the hay in the experience of many a farmer and in the memories of many a farmer's boy, according to abundant testimony. It seems extremely probable that the strawberry received its name in much the same way as the harvest-apple, only more directly, for the strawberry not only ripened at haying, but actually grew under the hay." [Harold H. Bender. "English strawberry," The American Journal of Philology, 55:1 (1934), pp. 71-74]

Haymaking as a dance form.

Pissarro’s dancing haymakers.
“La fenaison en une triomphale après-mini de juin. Lestement des femmes eparpillent, avec des graces de jongleuses, l’herbe desserchee, imponderable, ou l’air vague. Le groupe des femmes a les ondulations, circulaire d’une ronde de sylphides:une fete de tons clairs.” “The rhythmic movement of the peasants tossing hay with their pitchforks evoked the image of a dance.”
Georges Lecomte, quoted in Belinda Thomson’s “Camille Pissarro and symbolism,” The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 124, No. 946. (Jan., 1982), pp. 14-21+23.

Posted by Alan Ritch at March 23, 2004 02:03 PM