January 23, 2020

That’s a Lot of Hay

One of the hayfields in question

Janine Pineo Photo | One of the hayfields in question

• By John F. Chisholm •

Cutting hay isn’t a bad job.  It is repetitive.  The diesel engine belts out a monosyllabic roar unmitigated by Mr. Doppler and his effect.  The mower growls along behind with its own whine.   The hay falls in swaths across the stubble.  With the tractor clanking and clattering over the bumps, the uneven sections of field join in as a percussion section.  Listening to the resultant cacophony nonstop for an entire day creates its own space and time continuum inside your head.

There’s a lot of ground to cover.

Hearing protection doesn’t help.  The din beats its way into your skull, regardless, playing disconnect in A-major on your synapses.  That’s the problem.  At least in my case, there aren’t many left.

I try fighting off the resultant stupor with simple math calculations.

Let’s see.  At 500 RPM PTO speed in second gear, the tachometer indicates a ground rate of 3.5 miles per hour.  If it takes me 14.5 minutes to make a single circuit of the field, how far have I traveled?

Okay, it’s a word problem.  I apologize.  You don’t have to do it.  It isn’t assigned.  The point is that I tried doing it while on the tractor and after about an hour of mowing.  The day stretched ahead of me.  My mental activity meter read DD (Dead – Discharged).  The heat, humidity, dust and deer flies weren’t helping.  The crash, boom, bang enveloped it all until the joined shock wave came out as a particularly malevolent sneer, “You can’t do this.  You can’t do this.  You can’t do this.”  Over and over.

I tried concentrating.  Surely this was easy.  I used to solve these problems in my head.  Was grammar school really that long ago?

You remember the process, cross multiplication, 3.5 miles in one hour is to X over 14.5 minutes.  I tried multiplying 3.5 times 14.5 before dividing by 60 in my head.  Then I changed the resultant decimal from miles into feet, multiplying by 5,280.  Simple.

Maybe for you.

I wish I could tell you that I whipped off a quick, easy, close-enough approximation immediately.

I didn’t.

I tried simplifying the problem.  What was 15 X 4?  58?  Now divide by 60 and place the decimal.  Multiply, converting miles into feet.  There’s the answer.  Alas!  Just knowing the route doesn’t mean you reach your destination.

I spent the entire afternoon wrestling the question.  The time around the field kept decreasing.  I wound up with shorter and shorter intervals to calculate every new, separate answer.  I tried keeping track of each previous (and inaccurate) result while I did the math for the next circuit.  Surely if I added the accumulated distances from each lap I could calculate how far I had to drive in a linear direction to completely mow the field.


I came into the house sometime after six o’clock, hot, dirty and tired.  Wendy kissed me anyway.  The tractor was put away, the field, mowed.  My wife gazed at me with curiosity.  “I looked out the window at you turning circles all day.  That would drive me crazy.  What do you think about while you mow?”

I rubbed hayseed from one ear before scratching my scalp.  Then I coughed.  “Funny you should ask.  Today I discovered an amazing truth.”

“You?”  Wendy  smiled.  “What?”

“The deed tells us that field is 19.6 acres.”  I shrugged.  “That might be true but it doesn’t seem probable.”

My wife gave me a quizzical glance.

“I know for a fact,” I glanced at my watch, “that it takes eight and a half light-hours just to go around the damn thing once.”