By about this time of the year, those farmers who still grow alfalfa have cut their "first crop" of hay.
Learning how to build a load of hay used to be an important lesson in many young boys' lives. As a loader passed over a windrow of cut alfalfa, you'd use a fork to pile up the hay from one end of the wagon to the other then go back and forth over and over again until no more could be piled on. Knowing how to keep a level pile and how to fork the hay to ease the lifting were vital. So was the patience and tenacity to do it in the heat.
It's why corn is a lot more preferable to harvest.
I was born too late for that, though the lessons my dad learned when working the fields with horse and fork were translated to the modern reaping of hay. Though he says I came up with the idea (I always correct him - he taught me), stacking in a hay mow required alternating the bales so for one line the short sides pointed one way then in the next row the other; after laying on level, you'd start on the next, lining the bales in the opposite direction so they interlocked and wouldn't fall on you later.
To have sturdiness later, you've got to spend most of your time on the underlying structure. It's a lost lesson.
(originally published June 5, 2005)