It’s 9:30 in the evening and it’s really hot. In July and August in my part of the world it’s always hot - hot, and humid, sticky and sultry, with very little breeze to provide relief from the oppressive mid-summer steam bath otherwise known as summertime in the Midwest. About the only time we get any relief from the stifling summer heat and humidity is when the occasional severe thunderstorm rolls through, bringing with it torrential rain, tornadic (my spell checker doe not like this word, but I believe it meteorologically correct because I’ve heard it used during severe weather bulletins as my family and I huddle in our basement in the middle of the night, following the advice of the man on the television by taking shelter in the nearest low-lying area of our home) gusts of wind strong enough to blow the iron patio furniture into the pool, and if we are really lucky, and the insurance company is not -- hail of varying sizes from grains of rice to baseballs.
But, on this languid summer evening, no air is moving. The stars are out and the misty night is blue and beautiful I’ve been at home for about ten minutes and am finally slipping into the pool – a moment I’ve been dreaming of all day. You see, I’ve been in the barn all day and am just now getting home. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have been at the barn so late in the day, but I had to wait for the hay man. I swept the sweltering, dusty barn loft in order to make ready for a hay delivery ordered last week, and promised by my friendly, always smiling hay-making professional, to be delivered at 4:00 this afternoon.
The hay man did not show up. I gave Ping a bath. The hay man did not show up. I cleaned out my all my tack trunks, swept the barn isle. Still he did not show up. I waited all evening in the heat, dust and dirt for a rendezvous, or a telephone call full of regrets. Neither materialized. This kind, smiling farmer with the wonderful orchard grass/alfalfa mix that Ping, my little NZ thoroughbred adores, kept me waiting all afternoon and evening, in vain. He just stood me up.
Around 7:30, Stable Boy called the barn. Stable Boy (my resident hay stacker) has been waiting for me to call so he can come down and help stack the hay. He is hot and tired, having just push mown the lawn, and wants to know when he should come down to help because he wants to get into the pool and cool off.
With the patience of Job (I’ve been around this particular block a time or two) I inform him that the hay man is a bit late. I am resigned to my fate, as I have been dealing with hay delivery professionals, for what seems an eternity, and know that if I wait long enough, the hay man will come. But old Stable Boy, being a relative newbie to the world of horse and hay management, is not quite so tolerant of missed appointments - he thinks when you make an appointment, you should keep the appointment. His words are a bit more colorful than should I relay here, but you get the idea. He is fit to be tied. I, on the other hand, am just tired.
Stable Boy knows that running low on hay stresses me out, planting a large kernel of sleeplessness into the fertile field of my worrywart psyche. I get decidedly nervous when the bale count falls below 30. My problem, in a nutshell, is that Ping, the direct beneficiary of my annual thousand-dollar hay budget, is not an easy keeper. So I like a nice, full hayloft at all times. If Ping needs a bale a day to keep his weight on, he gets a bale a day. The problem is that the loft only holds 100 bales, creatively well-stacked.
When I first moved to this barn, a business degree, or maybe one in math – now there’s a stretch – would have better prepared me for figuring out just how many bales of hay one can fit in a 6 x 10 foot space that is, roughly, 10 feet high. I know my mathematician/physicist Stable Boy/husband would have appreciated this ability in advance of my ordering my first hay delivery just after moving into the barn. But, because I am a very right-brained artistic type, I over ordered. No problem, I think, because winter is coming on and too much is better than too little. I suppose you could say that it’s not my problem, because I don’t stack the hay. My husband (the hay stacker in residence) takes a rather different view of my overstocking the equine larder. It is because of my volume-calculating deficit that, rather than being home eating a nice hot dinner on a cold, blustery late November evening, Stable Boy had to stack and restack 120 bales so it would fit into a space designed for about 100 without overlapping anyone else’s space (barn condo neighbors tend be a little bit touchy about any encroachment into their territory, especially as winter rapidly approaches).
Because of my limited hay-storage capacity, I have had to buy hay two or three times a year, depending on how many groceries Ping manages to get himself around. In order to assuage my hay insecurity, I have made it a practice to cultivate and maintain very friendly relationships with all of my hay providers (My parents would be so proud because all of those college classes in diplomacy have finally paid off!). I know where my, or perhaps I should say, Ping’s bread is buttered. I’m not going to complain about a little inaccurate scheduling for fear of irreparably damaging the vital hay provider/consumer relationship no matter how much Stable Boy complains. Like my farrier, these three guys have me where they want me, and they know it.
Finally, at 8:45pm as the evening mist began to rise over the pastures, I gave up and came home.
And so, the long awaited, highly anticipated cool, blue water restores my sanity -- and Stable Boy’s good humor – that and a cold frosty insulated mug filled to the brim. In the twilight he begins to whistle softy as he slips onto his floating mattress. The cool, clear water slips over me, washing away the salty sweat, barn dirt (makes you want to never, ever swim at my house doesn’t it?) and frustration that cover me from head to toe. Sighing, I try to let go, settling in for a nice, cooling float on the glassy surface of the water, watching the fireflies rise from the new mown, fragrant grass that surrounds the pool, deciding not to worry about the diminishing hay stores until tomorrow. I finally begin to relax – drifting off into a twilight reverie.
Suddenly, the telephone jars me from my floating island of tranquility. I look at my husband as he answers the telephone. Stable Boy gives me an ironic small smile as he slowly climbs the steps of the pool, saying as he climbs: “It’s the hay man. He’s waiting for you at the barn.”