Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Buying Hay

Last Friday Laura and I bought some hay from Mr. Lucero, a local farmer. A cold front had blown through the day before, so it was a crisp, clear day, invigorating, a good day to be alive. The sky was an archetypal New Mexico dark blue all the way down to the horizon. This is as clear as the sky can ever get. (To test how clear the sky is, hold your thumb over the sun. If the sky is dark blue all the way to your thumb, the sky is absolutely clear. Astronomers use this as literally a “rule of thumb” to judge how clear the sky is.) I remember in the 60s, sometimes my astronomy colleagues would come in all excited and say, “It’s gonna be a photoelectric night tonight!” They were doing photoelectric photometry, measuring how bright different celestial objects were, and a “photoelectric night” was absolutely clear, with no haze in the air to throw their readings off. The day we bought our hay was a photoelectric day. It’s good to know that the atmosphere can still be as clear as it was 45 years ago.

Mr. Lucero lives only three miles away from us, which is nothing by country standards. He’s virtually a next door neighbor. By Las Cruces standards, 3 miles is clear on the other side of town -- so as you can see, country people live by a different distance scale.

I have always felt isolated, living my back-to-nature lifestyle out in the country, because so few people are doing it in this area. My neighbors, with rare exceptions, are mainstream city people who happen to live in the country because they love the peace and quiet. They may have a horse or two, but rarely do I resonate with their lifestyle to any extent. Although I do just fine when focused on the homestead, I usually feel compromised when I want to interact with other people – having to drive into town to have a social life, having to spend my money in town because there’s so little to buy out here. This area, though it’s hardcore country, is strictly a suburban, bedroom community. It’s a rare privilege to have an interaction that feels really authentic to me, lifestyle-wise. Buying hay from a farmer neighbor, who lives only 3 miles away, is about as authentic as it can get around these parts, so I always enjoy “hay day,” even though there’s a lot of heavy lifting involved. (But hey, that’s what beekeepers are good at.)

I have a little 4x6 foot trailer that hooks onto my little 1986 Mazda 323 hatchback, my all-purpose “bee vehicle.” Usually I use it to haul beehives around. But it also perfectly holds 12 bales of hay, so it’s a wonderful hay hauler. We hooked the trailer onto the car and drove down to Mr. Lucero’s farm, enjoying the cool weather and beautiful blue sky.

Mr. Lucero is an old guy, well into his 70s, a Navy vet (he has a sign in his yard telling us so), who had a McCain sign next to the highway before the election. But we have a lot in common – hay, pecans, livestock, the weather. There’s never any lack of things to talk about, because Mr. Lucero likes to talk and does most of the talking. He told us we were lucky this year, because he had several people waiting in line to buy what little hay he had left. I lugged the bales out of his hay barn one at a time and stacked them in the trailer while Mr. Lucero told us how he had to sell his cattle because they “didn’t respect his fence” and kept getting out. If they had crossed the dry irrigation ditch, he said, they would have been gone forever. Even though they didn’t wander far, it took a couple of cowboys from 3 in the afternoon till 9 in the evening to round them up. I just love stories like this – it’s authentic New Mexico at its best, and somebody else is doing the work. Rounding up cattle is a lot of work, and is best left to cowboys. We beekeepers have our own realm, which is work enough.

After paying Mr. Lucero his $81 (proving once again that stuff is more valuable than money) we drove home with our green treasure. Laura and I unloaded the bales into the wheelbarrow one at a time, trundled each one down the steps, across the yard, and into a pile out of the way, where they’ll remain until I rototill them into the garden around March or so. (We learned last year to buy our hay early, because farmers run out as winter wears along.)

Hay makes great fertilizer for my garden. It’s cost-effective, is highly nutritious, and is locally available. Unlike manure, it’s odor-free. It’s a bit of a hassle to apply, though. Wearing gloves, I peel off a hunk of bale and crumble it between my hands, walking as I crumble. Before long, the bale has been turned into an inch-thick layer of hay across an entire section of my garden. I usually crumble three bales of hay for each section, and rototill it under. The leaves, which are very high in nitrogen, break down quickly, while the coarser stems, which are higher in carbon, last a long time. I’ve learned over the years that organic matter oxidizes out of the soil quickly in our hot summer climate, and that for best results, I have to add fresh hay every year. But it’s not a bad job, and eating fresh veggies out of my garden all year (we practice year-round gardening) is worth whatever the garden demands.

The Obama Thing

When we got back from Albuquerque Monday afternoon, there was an envelope from the Obama campaign waiting for us. Inside the envelope, with no explanation, was a 6”-diameter flexible plastic disk. The top of the disc has printed on it the Obama logo, “Obama Biden” in large letters, and the website address. I figure it’s their way of thanking me for my campaign contributions. But what is it? It’s too small and flat to be a frisbee, so I’ve concluded that it must be a coaster. What else could it possibly be? But truth be told, we have no idea what the thing actually is. Then Laura had a flash of insight. “It’s The Obama Thing!” she exclaimed. And she’s right. What a coincidence! Three days after I write a post entitled “The Obama Thing,” an Obama Thing manifests itself in our mailbox! Once again, the Universe shows its sense of humor.


Anonymous Jacques Conejo said...

Ahh..... dechaosification! I love it. I notice that my computer leaves a clear red underline beneath that word. Wonder when our advanced technology will catch up to your wordsmithery! (Oops... There's another red underlined word)

Good reminder on the hay factor. Thanks.... Know anyone with alfalfa? I assume Mr. Lucero is now sold out of hay?

Glad to hear that Mr. Neil is giving you a hand out there. I guess you're hard at it on that project.

It's always fun to read your

5:46 AM  
Blogger Gordon Solberg said...

Thanks for your comments, Jacques, I appreciate the positive energy you are contributing to this effort!

For hay, look in the "farm" section of the Thrifty Nickel, or American Classifieds to use the official name. You can buy hay at the feed store (Horse and Hound, etc.)but it's expensive, and the quality isn't always the best.

7:45 AM  

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