Various Veins

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"It's hard to imagine hay bales being the focus of a crime spree," wrote Toban Dyck in Maclean's last week.

Farmers reading that must have burst out laughing or fallen into a blind rage, like those described by Mark Twain in his short story, "How I Edited an Agricultural Paper."

If the opening sentence didn't set them off, the next surely did. "They are, after all, just piles of old grass."

Old grass! Farmers learned long ago to mow their meadows when the grass was green and filled with nutrients, and to remove the moisture to preserve the food value in the resulting hay. It was life or death to their cattle and horses for the long winters. It was life or death to the farmers and their families and the labourers and tradesmen who served them.

Old grass indeed!

Toban Dyck was trying to be funny, and the writer of the headline joined the fun with "Hay! Stop, Thief!"

Mark Twain knew he was writing nonsense. It was his forte.

Urban dwellers know as well as rural people that when the price of fuel goes up so does the rate of fuel theft. Isn't hay the fuel that drives the production of beef? Why wouldn't it be the target of thieves, some desperate, some just opportunists.

Lots of humans eat horse flesh, too, in spite of the protesters who see equines as more deserving of life than lowly bovines. Hay is crucial here, too.

Dalton McGuintey's gang have hamstrung the horse racing industry but without hay there would be not even a remnant of the sport.

Dalton McGuintey demonstrated a profound lack of awareness to rural Ontario when mad cow disease had the beef farmers on the ropes. He came to the Farm Show and spoke about the improvements being planned for education in rural areas. Not a peep about assisting farmers to survive this calamity.

Quite a telling act for a leader who pitched money into car manufacturing, not to mention the fiasco he made of education all through the province.

Hay, like time, is money. Toban Dyck is aware of this truth if he lacks any knowledge of the difference between a bale of hay and a pile of old grass. He notes that western farmers are shipping hay to the States where animals are in danger of becoming racks of gleaming bones and eyeless skulls. They get $30 more a ton than they do in Canada.

He calls this an upside, but it's not so for Canadian farmers needing hay to get them through a drought. Hay has been trucked west one year and east another as the fickle weather redistributes rainfall. Selling to the highest bidder has its own side effects.

The word hay has many semantic connections in English. A large sum of money elicits the comment, "And that ain't hay!" Some bales are rolls of hay, but a roll in the hay evokes a whole other scene. A haymaker may be a farmer or it may be a head bruising connection with a fist.

The late great Red Skelton in his roll as Klem Kadiddlehopper let us know Klem was a hayseed by chewing on a stem of timothy. Maybe Red was suggesting Klem wasn't bright enough to chew on a more nourishing sprig of clover or alfalfa.

Bales of hay shed water and preserve the food value. Rain or dew causes piles of old grass to moulder to dust and enrich the soil. Feeding mouldy hay to your livestock will kill them and further enrich the soil, but not you.

Mark Twain knew he was writing horse manure. Did Toban Dyck know he was turning his article into the same genre with the inane opening sentences?



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