Does the word that just popped into your head show up here? Find out:

26 December, 2009

What the Hay?

Drawn east repeatedly this year by a burning house, toxic waste, and the inevitable toilet installations, I drove through central Washington on I-5 again and again. The east side unfurls over the Columbia Plateau, and like a flag it is flat overall, but also ripples across ridges and rivers, and closer in most of the ground is rolling. There's wheat, but you're not in flat Kansas anymore.

And there's grass. Two years ago when I drove cross-country in January, I saw truck after truck after truck of hay. Out here, they're invariably bringing Eastern Washington hay over the divide. Grass grown in the Puget Basin just cannot compare, for reasons that remain secret to most of you. Western Washington is crawling with alpaca and lama, but I'm not gonna try and tell you they're eating it all. From the level of horse-trading that goes on on craigslist even in the burg of Olympia, I'd say that our equine friends are responsible for a chunk of this consumption, but the reason doesn't really matter.

The point is that the maritime northwest demands hay from the interior, and every year there are massive runs of grass from Kittitas and beyond, fighting up the mighty 90 and spilling over to feed grateful west-side ungulates. So, eastside farmers make hay, and westside ruminants eat that instead of foraging on native forbs.

That they're not eating any native stuff at all is a problem in itself, because those hay fields are exotic monocultures for the most part. Imported species grown for export. Classical colonial ag, probably down to the part where the profits stack up a lot quicker in far away coffers than on the farm (no idea what it means, but a bunch of hay stockpiles have Korean writing on the tarps). Anyway, a field that once had dozens of native species is now covered with one introduced grass, where food and medicine grew and offered itself to the first people to live there, now nutrients are forcibly extracted for cattle who live 150 miles away.

I don't know how this works out for farmers, and if they can make hay in the economic sense, I wouldn't begrudge them. But my guess is that like every other agricultural market (especially in the wake of NAFTA and the other 'free trade' agreements that somehow end up subsidizing large agribusiness), they experience punishing years. Even those years are numbered, because spilling down the slopes and along the I-90 corridor, the houses are coming; there are people who commute across the Cascades to work in the urban west. Farmers who own land may cash in one last time, but then the land will be ruined for hay, suburban blight-stricken and barren.

And in archaeological time, it's hard to imagine those settlements surviving. No economic base, pretty easily cut off from water, wind-plasted--a periphery that far from the core gets cut loose first thing when history tilts savage. Humans will pull back and the weeds, some natives among them, will colonize. Ghostly winds will howl through abandoned tract homes and strip malls, which I can only pray will be hauled away as the toxic waste they are before 50 years passes and some archaeologist has to record them.


  1. Tarps are handy for everything in Texas from covering hay to covering your boat. There are more uses for this heavy duty, weather resistant cover than you can imagine.


  2. Nice Blog about Hay.
    I like this blog.Hay Tarps need to be 100% waterproof to protect the hay from weather elements such as sun, rain, snow, wind and sun's harmful UV rays.