I’ve written before about my attempts to build a haystack that looks like one in a Claude Monet painting (see links at end of this post). This year I came close, as you can see by the two pictures. The distracting blue plastic at the base of my Monet will eventually be put over the haystack although I think the stack will shed water without a cover as well as Monet’s did. I’m not taking the chance of a sudden 6-inch Midwest downpour ruining it— something I don’t think Monet’s farmers had to put up with. They didn’t build their haystacks inside a ring of woven wire fence either, so I’m cheating a little.
Online, you can find haystacks still being erected all over the world. (Reader Ian Graham has sent me photos of his— he does a good Monet, too.) And as for paintings, good heavens! It appears that almost all artists, right up to the present, feel that they must paint a haystack or a haymaking scene just like so many of them feel compelled to paint nudes at some time in their careers. I typed “hay in art” into Google, and up popped hundreds of hay paintings. Not to be undone by the absence of stacks in modern agriculture, today’s artists are filling their canvases with hay bales including those big round ones wrapped in plastic.
I like to think there is more going on here than just an arty thing. The essence of farming comes down to feeding plants and animals so that they can feed us. Grazing pastures is the most sustainable way for animals to eat and plants to keep growing, as the Great Plains buffalo proved. But in northern climates, that means some of the surplus summer pasture needs to be cut for hay for over winter. This was the most practical way to insure a steady food supply back before farmers went crazy and decided to feed the world with corn and soybeans. People in Monet’s day saw much more than just the beauty of a haystack when they looked at one. They saw survival. As long as haystacks dotted the horizon every fall, society knew that it would survive until the next growing season. I wonder if even today, people look at those hay bales dotting a field and instinctively realize the same thing.
And while you’re at it, take a look at Gene’s newest book, the title of which has to be bleeped when he does radio interviews, Holy Shit, Managing Manure to Save Mankind. You can read Chapter 2 – The Nitty-Gritty of the Shitty, here.