a thought : \ Thank you, hay

When you happen to pick up some grass in the summer, say you brush it off your clother after a picnic, do you ever happen to think about that it is thanks to straws like this that our species exists?

Sometimes I think about the billions of things and circumstances that had to align to make it possible for me to take my casual steps through this life. All the wing strokes of all the butterflies that have placed me here and now. I know, we're entering risky ground here, bordering on the realization of the randomness of the universe and finally the meaninglessness of it all. To infinetely immerse in these thoughts surely would make anyone dizzy and lose grip on reality, and I don't believe that we as humans are made to grasp the extent of all the circumstances that make our existence possible. But I believe that we are made to try, and I feel that this trying is often beautiful.

This text is an homage to something that has made the existence of life as we know it possible: hay. It is also an homage to the writer and archaeologist Alexander Langlands who wrote about it first, and is rather a branching out on his thoughts than a fully original track.

The first thing I want for anyone who've made it this far is to recommend you to immediately read the book Cræft by Langlands. It's not necessary in order to get into the following text – I just strongly feel that it is very worthwile for anyone who's either interested in history, craft or just likes a well-phrased observation of our human-being through history. In the book Langlands walks us through some selected crafts we've been doing through time and shows how these crafts have not only been necessary for our physical survival, but also how crafting has led to wisdom and connected us to seasons, places, and spirituality.

To dig, to thatch, to make skeps or to build a wall aren't just actions, and the results aren't just products, but there is always a before of gathering materials and negotiating with the place, a during of making, planning and focus and finally an after of maintenance and learning.

Langlands also makes a point of how nowadays, we are less aware of how much power is needed for our survival. He calls it us being ”power illiterate”, arguing that a convenient access to fossil fuels has made us unaware how much energy it actually takes to fuel what we use for our life styles. Here he also makes an elegant point by tracing the word ”craft” to its German root ”Kraft”, which in German translates to ”power” or ”energy”. He notes how craft historically included not just a physical action or making but also the underlying knowledge of energy, time and place – a knowledge in risk of neglect in our age of pressing buttons.

I'd like to guide the attention to the fact that not all species of plants that we'd casually call ”grass” actually are grasses. Grass is a family of plants, but not all plants belong here. Before species of grass evolved, it was much harder for vegetation to re-emerge after bigger fires. Different families of grass, with their fire-enduring roots and seeds that could survive and even thrive after fires is the reason for bigger mammals eventually starting to wander the plains of the earth; they got plenty of food. Grazing animals opened up landscapes and within these landscapes we, our species, could evolve.

We, too, are bigger mammals.

To be able to live in our nothern latitudes, our ancestors have relied on domesticating animals as part of their farming, but to bring the beasts to stay over the winter – the habit of grazing animals is otherwise to migrate – the animal keeper needs to be able to provide food for the animals around the year. Haymaking is the first craft that Langlands describes in his book, and for good reason. Haymaking requires several interlinking skills to follow the cycles of grass: experienced knowldge of rotation of crops; a feel for when it's time to harvest the grass while preserving most nutrients and flavour; physical strength and stamina while scything the grass and again a keen sense for the weather when leaving the harvest out to dry. This means knowing whether a cloud at the horizon is closing in and whether it contains rain, as a shower at the wrong time can mess up the whole harvest. The whole process requires both planning and sensing.

And I will not even go into the fascinating skill of scything, or the fact that there are still craftspeople in France who maintain the centuries old tradition of literally growing a pitchfork.

We walk upon this earth and we line the ground in strips and squares. As a grotesque offspring of traditional farming, todays large-scale industrial farming scarcely makes for romantization. Neither does it bring us closer to the earth, physically nor spiritually, as most of this farming rather resembles a clinical process based on Liebig law of the minimum and is maintained by machines. Silage has in large part replaced hay – you know these huge, plastic wrapped balls that can be seen stacked on fields. Still, I'd like to point out that in many ways I am deeply grateful to the benefits of having been born in this age before I completely throw myself into romantisizing history. At the very least I'd like to acknowledge the luxury of myself not having to battle the seasons for food, or the luxury of not having to die from a cold.


I often wonder what it would be like to belong to the earth in a way we rarely do anymore. I think about my forefathers' tanned shoulders, working the fields during hot days of August. I think about my mother riding the trailer on top of the load of hay as a child. I think about the animals who have, through centuries, stood in the cramped barns of Europe during incredibly dark winters, slowly chewing on straws that have grown under spring rains and summer sun. And isn't the smell of hay just fine in itself? I think of their warm bodies, how the body of a calm, large animal is enough so that we, too, can find comfort and warmth. And the dark, wise eyes of a cow; I think of all the grazing animals that have stayed with us through the winters and, just like us, have patiently awaited spring during the cold, dark nights. Because yes, we are greedy predators, but at the same time we're small, cold monkeys who are scared of the dark and who need to find company and make food for other species in order to survive. Haymaking is a craft that has required many adaptations and skills of us, still hay is not even food that we can digest ourselves, but we've made all this effort for someone else's sake. Because our survival is dependent on others, and the family that we provide for doesn't always consist of our own species. Never has. It's beautiful, because it's loving.

We have a lot to be grateful for to these plants that thrive under the sun, open landscapes and are someone else's food, but I also want to thank the fact that it works. That we can dry these plants to keep the nutrients, that we have figured out how to do it and that we've done it for millennia. And that we can always re-master these skills. Haymaking brings us closer to place, seasons and weather. Haymaking disciplines our bodies and teaches us of power and craft. Hay fuels heat in the cells of other mammals. Hay also isolates heat as insulation in a house, and maybe it even keeps warmth in the form of the memory of sunlight that the straws carry in their cells.

I think of it sometimes when I brush off stray straw of grass from my clothes, and it makes me happy. Thank you, hay.