Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Customer service

                                                                                 photos by Gautam Dantas
We're installing a solar photovoltaic system on our farm. The two man crew from All Energy Solar spent four days here. Their major tool was a skidder with a bucket for landscaping the area,  an auger attachment for digging the 24" diameter holes for footings, and a trenching attachment to dig the  trench for the electric wires. Our grandsons, Kieran, Jasper and Simon were entranced. They liked the clay that was uncovered, the holes, and the trenches. They were even more impressed with the concrete pump and the concrete mixer.

The crew kept us up to date on what was happening so the boys could watch. We planned our day around the concrete delivery. They even brought us a monarch caterpillar they found while grading the field around the collector array. But their most amazing act of kindness happened the day we were gone. The men noticed that two of our does and their four kids had escaped from the pasture. The guys found the hole in the fence, rounded up the goats and encouraged them back through the hole. Then, they fixed the hole!

It's too bad that all companies don't have the same customer service instincts as All Energy Solar.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

If one boy can

Dave's Grandpa Greene used to say "one boy can do half a man's work, but two boys, working together can only do a quarter of a man's work."

Last week we called a young friend who wanted to help with baling. We asked him to bring a couple of boys. He showed up with four friends. They all came in the same car and all were eager to earn some money, so we hired them all, but we kept thinking 'if two boys working together do a quarter of a man's work, what happens with five boys working together?'

The first thing we teach them is how to move the bales from the wagon onto the bale elevator. If they lay the bale on straight, it travels up the elevator and into the hay mow without falling off or getting hung up in the narrow doorway to the mow.  Some years more bales end up on the ground than in the mow. Next  we teach them how to stack the bales in the mow. The bottom bales lay on their sides so the twines don't rot, all running north and south. The next layer, stacked on their bottoms, run east and west and the next layer north and south continuing in that pattern until the barn is full. It seems like such a simple pattern, but if one person starts to stack the bales wrong, everyone who follows him carries on the mistake. It wouldn't be so bad, but a stack ten bales high and two bales wide can be very unstable if it has no cross ties to connect it to the rest of the pile. Some years, we've spent as much time rearranging the hay as stacking it.

This year, with these boys, after a few reminders, the barn is in perfect shape. we had a freshman, several sophomores and eleventh graders and a new graduate. They paid attention and learned the patterns. They worked together, solved problems together and chattered the entire time in Somali. They watched Dave and I keep working when we got hot and tired and they did the same. They watched us throw bales and took pride in learning the technique. At the end of our week of work, Dave and I baled a wagon-load on our own while they filled the barn on their own; they were 100% successful.

Baling hay was a real pleasure this year, because of our crew of five boys.  Even if one boy can only do half a man's (or woman's) work, these five boys can do the job.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Make hay while the sun shines

(a preview of my first adult fiction book, Tangled Web a novel, due out in September)
 I watched the world go by, standing at the back of the hay wagon, or at least our corner of the world. It was an amazing day! Summer blue sky stretched on into infinity. A cooling breeze brushed past my face and touched the leaves of the quaking aspen at the edge of the field. They fluttered and twirled, whispering on their flexible stems. As we rolled past the pasture fences, the sheep raised their heads to watch us. Stupid was grazing right along the woven wire grid of the fence line, tempting fate.

The alfalfa plants that had escaped the path of the mower were blooming, colors shading from light lavender, all the way through the purples to dark, midnight blue. Yellow sulfur butterflies floated from flower to flower. The scent of the alfalfa flowers carried by the breeze was sweet, and somehow, green.

I smiled at Mindy as she dragged a bale from the baler chute at the front of the wagon to me at the back. "Doesn't the air smell great?" I asked. She took a deep breath and sneezed. "Stand back here by me,” I added, “so you can smell the air before it picks up all those little bits of hay."

Mindy staggered a bit as the tractor pulled us over a rock in the field. "Mom, I think you have strange ideas about haying."

"What do you mean?"

"Well," Mindy explained. "I think it's fun when cool guys come to help us."

"You mean like Arlene's son, Gavin, or Mick and Tony?"

"Yeah. They're fun to work with. But I don't get all excited about the smell of the air or the flowers at the edge of the field.” We bumped over another rock and staggered to regain our balance. I grabbed at Mindy’s shoulder to steady her.

"Mom, look!" Mindy pointed over my shoulder, suddenly excited. "A deer!" A tiny fawn sprinted toward the brush at the edge of the field. His long legs wobbled. He stopped, looked back at us and then took off again, vanishing under the draping leaves of a willow.

"Wow, that's the first time I've seen a fawn in the hay field," I said, awed.

"It was sleeping in a windrow," Mindy interrupted. "I didn't see anything, and then suddenly it jumped to its feet right in front of us and raced off, just before the baler picked up the hay it was lying in."

"It was exactly the same color as the hay in the windrows," I said.  "If we hadn't had rain on this hay it would still be green and the fawn wouldn't have been able to hide there. Neat."

Mindy and I looked at each other and smiled. Then she turned to grab the next bale.