AMY KIRK: Windrowing the drunkard's path
I'm sure that the quilt pattern "Drunkard's Path" was named after my hay cutting. When I windrow, my main focus is to keep the windrower's header held straight so that the edge of the cut hay looks straight and not like a hacksaw blade edge on every pass up and down the hayfield.
When the Hubs gets the perimeter of a field lined out for me to finish, I am set up with a straight line to follow, but I have it looking mutilated after cutting one or two swaths. In an attempt to smooth out my crooked-looking cut hay line, the rest of the field's windrows gradually get misshapen and less straight with each pass.
My mission becomes correcting the previous correction line I tried to straighten out on the last swath. I like looking down the field as I'm windrowing and not seeing my last cut line all jagged and I become obsessed with getting a straight-cut hay line. Correcting my previous hay-cutting correction line is how I end up occupying my time in the windrower once looking for rocks and gopher mounds gets boring and I've sorted out all the thoughts I planned to think about while windrowing.
I enjoy windrowing because our windrower is one piece of equipment I'm allowed to operate that has a cab (although the air conditioner decided to quit shortly after we started haying), but the machine's downfall is that it is hypersensitive to steering. Our windrower's hydraulic steering wheel is so touchy if I sneeze there will be a jag or gouge in my cut line. This is not helpful since my steering is bad enough as it is. I don't need a hypersensitive-steering windrower to make my driving mistakes visible too. Regardless of my efforts to guide it straight, steering in the direction I'm looking is still obvious. Having to turn around to look at what's behind me about every few minutes compounds the problem.
The fact that we have to windrow in odd-shaped fields also challenges my efforts to create clean cut-hay lines. One of the things I loathe about the Black Hills is that there is no such thing as square-shaped property lines. I don't enjoy cutting weird shaped hayfields. One reason I'm sure I fail at cutting hayfields perfectly straight is because math seems to be a part of haying; specifically geometry, and math has never been one of my gifts. I want central and eastern South Dakota kind of hayfields that are square or rectangular; not like our hypotenuse, parallelogram, trapezoid, and kids' doodle-looking shaped hayfields. Our hay ground has angles, sharp corners, or glob-shaped lines that make windrowing difficult due to having to go around rocks and trees that hinder my efforts to cut hay neatly.
My hay-cutting steering doesn't suit my desires for perfectly straight lines, but fortunately, no matter how I cut it, I've got the most important stuff down and it'll still make hay.
-- Amy Kirk and her husband raise their two kids on a fourth-generation cow/calf operation near Pringle. She blogs at ranchwifeslant.areavoices.com.