Before the rain

Although hot and humid weather is a seasonal rite of passage here in central Pennsylvania, such conditions always take me by surprise and I am affronted by them. I limit work out-of-doors during the afternoon hours when it is so very hot and I do away with morning and evening chores and feed and water the livestock once at mid-morning. Even then, when it is relatively cool, the humidity drains my energy. The animals take such conditions in stride and do not complain. Hank and Argus, Anatolian Shepherds, are happy to be invited to spend the day in the under-croft. They work hard to make themselves two-dimensional, thereby increasing the surface in direct contact with the cool, concrete, floor. They lay sleeping, slobbering, comfortably. Their twitching eyelids and paddling extremities give away their dreams. Folks ask us about the sheep, and whether they have difficulty in the heat. The same people will also ask about the very coldest part of winter. To both lines of questioning I provide assurance that the sheep are, always, just fine. As far as their current comfort level, the adults were sheared not long ago and lambs carry only three months of fleece. The behavior of the flock adapts to the heat as well. Whereas, in winter, the group will forage during the day and hunker down at night, in summer the group first stirs at sunset and will graze by the light of the moon or in total darkness. Once the heat begins to build, the lot will settle down to wait out the day in the ample coolness of the shade of Walnut trees. The cats become entirely nocturnal and spend their days holed up in the barn. The only animals which seem unaffected by the weather are the layers. Although pastured meat birds are much influenced by the heat (which is why we have them processed and in the freezers by the time summer heats up), our free-range layers can be counted upon to go about their usual business. That being said, it is the winter, and the very cold feet it brings with it, which they disdain. And so it was that the farm was quiet today so I took the camera to a farm I know along the river. As I pulled alongside the large barn and stepped out of the truck I was met with a wave of heat and humidity which wafted from under the barn itself. The folks that own this place store hay and straw in the cavernous mow above and house beef cattle and replacement heifers below. Although the under-croft is open and large fans work incessantly to bring in fresh air, large numbers of ruminant animals produce lots of heat (which is why, incidentally, dairy barns are rarely heated). The animals were well fed and watered but seemed restless. I watched as they jockeyed for position in front of the many fans which were spread evenly around the spacious pad. I always enjoy walking around a barn, especially a working barn, and this one didn’t disappoint. The sheds and out buildings were crammed with equipment. The sweet smell of fermented forage rose from the bunks and the automatic waterer droned on, harmonizing pleasantly with the soft groans and footfalls made by the animals as they moved about. As I walked I came upon this school bus which serves as a storage shed. The bruised metal and shattered windows stood in contrast to the brilliant green of the maturing corn crop and rapidly gathering storm clouds. I like strolling past machinery, crops, and livestock, looking at each knowingly, and thinking about how it is that the first two are used, along with much dedication and hard labor, to produce the third.

MagicBus2

13 thoughts on “Before the rain

  1. There’s something about rust (especially wet rust). It loves the camera. Not hard to feel the summer peace in your writing here, but a little voice in the back of my mind reminds me of the verse from “Haying Song” by Dave Mallett:

    And ya have to make hay when the sun shines.
    That’s what all of the hill people say.
    Ya just keep your load wide, keep an eye on the sky.
    And make sure it’s dry when you put it away.

    • Mallett’s words make it sound deceptively easy. Here it is, nearly August, and we still haven’t cut. I thought the end-of-the-week might provide a window of opportunity but that closed shut this morning when I checked the weather. Perhaps climate change will drive a shift away from dry hay-making to more of a reliance on the production of haylage (bagged and fermented forage which doesn’t require the sort of drying times required of dry hay). I’m always very good a ‘doing what needs to be done,’ and taking care of business. In this case, however, I am dependent upon the weather which will simply not cooperate. It drives my nuts to hold back from cutting on a day when a 30% chance of showers is called for … and we stay dry all day! I’m going balder and grayer by the day. One of these days I’m simply going to brush-hog the whole crop and be done with it. Summer peace … well, partly so! D

      • Funny – we get the same thing here. Traditionally farmers here gathered hay as well but the stopper is always whether we can dry it. More importantly, up until fairly recently, within the last 60-70 years or so, the fishery was mainly salt dried cod, not flash frozen stuff. The cod would be split, the head and organs removed (the livers were tossed into barrels where the sun would render out precious cod liver oil) and then salted for several days. The salted fish was then spread on wooden platforms, flakes, to dry and cure in the sun. The fish needed 4-6 good solid days of sun, something that often does not happen here as we often tend to have damp foggy summers (this one is definitely not that; been 25+ degrees every day since June 30). How often would the fishers spread out the fish only to have to interrupt everything, come back to shore and just put it back away whenever the fog or rain would arrive. Just as stressful as what you are now facing. They’d cope, of course, but lower quality fish meant hard times for the fishers. BTW – Josephine, Lesley and I are going to Ireland from the 30th until Aug 11 …

        • Yup … farming … whether it be on dry land or the open oceans, has always been a difficult and often frustrating way to make a living. Now, there’s an understatement for you! Regarding Ireland … TAKE LOTS OF PICTURES, PLEASE and THANK YOU. D

  2. This almost looks like a painting, not a photograph, due to its texture! We actually saw an old Volkswagon Beetle serving as a storage basin for corn when we were in Newport! Those cloud look quite ominous. Hope you got back in your truck before the skies unloaded! I’m with you on the humidity. Not a fan.

    • Yeah .. that effect is called ‘painterly’ and is part of the process called tonemapping. I’m not sure where I stand on what it does to images. It can be used to make images which are otherwise pretty flat (lacking in what’s called ‘dynamic range’) pop a bit. Perhaps I over-cooked this one but I didn’t see any reason not to partake in a bit of artistic license.

    • Yes, Photomatix. You got it in one! But a Tone Map of a single image rather than a true HDR of multiple shots. I don’t use Photomatix much but did so here because I had taken several bracketed shots while visiting this farm. I don’t usually like the effect of HDR for the very reason that your comment highlighted … I really don’t like it that HDR images scream ‘HDR.’ From what I gather, a tone map of a single photo maps color to color to create an HDR effect from a photo with limited dynamic range. Given that I don’t really like the ‘look’ of these (whether true HDR or a tone map) I suppose I could always dial down the ‘strength’ slider and get an image less reminiscent of the 1960s psychedelic-pop-art movement. Anyway, I viewed this image as something of a change from my usual fare. Thanks for keeping me on the straight-and-narrow! D

      • Excellent clouds on the right, by the way. I can’t remember if I’ve tried Photomatix on a single image, but I have occasionally processed a RAW image in different ways (one better for the highlights, the other for the shadows) and merged the two versions.

  3. Artistically done. The colors and definition are vivid and crisp, a treat for the senses. Rich, vibrant and totally luscious.

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