October 27, 2006

Maramureş 5. Making and stacking hay.

Making and stacking hay.

Around these holy intermissions, we watched the classic, secular narrative unfold. After the early morning scything, the flattened grass and flowers were left for several hours until the dew had left them. Then the tedders, women with rakes and men with forks, came to turn and toss the half-dried hay into loose windrows. By the end of the first day, if the air had been warm enough, these rows were consolidated into waist-high mounds. Damper weather or a denser crop, rich in broad-leafed herbs, would limit the rate of the mounding or the size of the mounds. Where the incipient hay was especially heavy, it was hung on the stakes and racks, raised from the moist ground, protected from the next night’s dew and shaped to shed unexpected showers. Drying strategies varied, in their details, from valley to valley, village to village, and meadow to meadow, according to subtle custom and conditions. When the hay was dry enough, the mounds were poled towards a platform made of logs and twigs, the imminent stack’s protective foundation, surrounding a tall pole, its supportive spine. The stacks took two or three hours to build.
Tedding near Berbeşti, 2006.Tedding near Breb, 2006.Boy in Spiderman shirt on stack near Calineşti, 2006.

The Făt Family of Daneşti.

We watched the Făt family build one of theirs on a hillside between their village of Daneşti and Ana’s Şurdeşti. Grandpa Vicentiu whom we’d seen working with his scythe earlier in the week, used a wooden fork to lift large clumps of still green plants meshed together by their hours in the rows and mounds, onto the staddle until the growing stack was shoulder high.
Vicentiu Făt with his scythe, Şurdeşti, 2006.Olga tedding, Şurdeşti, 2006. Măriuca and Olga cocking, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Măriuca and Olga cocking, Şurdeşti, 2006. Fat family raking, Surdesti, 2006.  Măriuca raking, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Then Grandma Olga climbed on top with a fork which she used to guide successive blocks of hay into their appointed places, dexterously maintaining her own balance and that of the symmetrical pile, stamping it into a consistent density, more compressed than the component forkfuls thrust up to her.
Vicentiu and Olga stacking, Şurdeşti, 2006. Vicentiu and Olga stacking, Şurdeşti, 2006.  Vicentiu and Olga stacking, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Vicentiu and Olga stacking, Şurdeşti, 2006. Vicentiu and Olga stacking, Şurdeşti, 2006.  Vicentiu and Olga stacking, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Vicentiu kept her busy and was himself kept busy by his daughters, Măriuca and Florica, repeatedly poling mounds to the base of the stack, and raking together residual mounds of the strands that were left. His grandsons, Andrei and Razvan, dressed in identical red and blue shirts with the “19” and “ Messi” on their backs, also helped, though with less consistent energy.
Olga on the stack, Şurdeşti, 2006.Andrei and Măriuca poling, Şurdeşti, 2006. Andrei and Razvan poling, Şurdeşti, 2006.

It was easy to befriend them, since I’d recognized their incongruous uniforms as the colors of Barcelona FC, club champions of Europe, and the name of Lionel Messi, the Argentinian soccer prodigy who’d migrated to Spain to make his fortune on grass far from his homeland.
Măriuca and her sons resting, Şurdeşti, 2006.Andrei holding fork, Şurdeşti, 2006. Razvan on stack, Şurdeşti, 2006.

After a couple of hours, when the stack was about ten feet tall, Vicentiu was joined in his heavy lifting by his son, Gheorghe, coming from his day job as a driving instructor, but evidently a strong and skillful user of the long furcoi, the best tool for lifting hay up to his mother, who by then was using a traditional rake to shape the dome as it began to taper in towards the central pole. When the stack had reached the furcoi’s limit and there was barely room for Olga to stand and stamp, Gheorghe lifted a large bundle of inferior hay, which had been left standing too long to maintain its sappy nutritive potential but long enough to create a straw-like texture, perfect for a rough, thatch-like roof. When this had been packed meticulously so that the stems sloped downwards, Vicentiu wove a tight wreath the size of a crown.
Vicentiu, Gheorghe and Olga building the stack, Şurdeşti, 2006.Vicentiu propping the stack, Şurdeşti, 2006.  Gheorghe lifting hay with furcoi, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Gheorghe lifting hay with furcoi, Şurdeşti, 2006.Olga arranging hay on stack, Şurdeşti, 2006. Vicentiu making wreath for the stack’s crown, Şurdeşti, 2006.

When I approached to look at it, I was shooed away, an unexpected breach of haying hospitality which evidently reflected the seriousness of this climactic moment. Balancing precariously on the summit, Olga took the wreath from the tines of the furcoi, placed it carefully over the tip of the central pole, and pushed it down so that it neatly plugged the last small space, sealing a potential conduit to protect the stack’s interior from the inevitable winter storms.
Wreath on furcoi, Şurdeşti, 2006.Olga taking wreath from furcoi, Şurdeşti, 2006. Olga placing wreath on central pole, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Since the top was now just beyond the ladder’s reach, Grandpa had to raise it off the ground, until Grandma’s feet were on the top rung. Then, effortlessly, he eased it down and braced it until she was safely off the structure they’d made together. The sun set on the final stage: Gheorghe’s carefully grooming every surface so that the stems pointed down, the better to shed the rain.
Olga climbs off stack, Şurdeşti, 2006.Gheorghe grooms stack, Şurdeşti, 2006. Finished stack at sunset, Şurdeşti, 2006.

Posted by Alan Ritch at October 27, 2006 12:17 PM