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It’s not the heat…oh, wait, yes, it is.

Did I complain about the heat before?  I can’t remember.  Maybe because when it’s over 100 for days in a row, my brain fries like an egg on an Arizona sidewalk.  Fortunately, we’ve had a week’s respite from the surface equivalent of hell, as the heat wave moved eastward.  But now, we here in the Rocky Mountain foothills, which everyone thinks of as cool, are back in 7-10 straight days in the 90s.  And we have humidity to boot, which is rare here, but actually made last night feel downright balmy. The kind of summer night I remember from my childhood, where we would stay out after sunset to catch fireflies in the backyard, holding them gently in Dixie cups, watching them glow.

I love warm, and I love summer, but this is the first time I’ve ever actually thought “I wish it was winter.” I quickly amended that thought to “I wish it was fall,” because I can’t ever ACTUALLY wish for cold and snow and wet and misery. But it tells you how bad things were that the thought could even cross my mind for an instant.

The 90s aren’t as bad as the 100s, but what inspired me to pen (or keyboard) my thoughts about the heat was today’s story about exploding hay bales.  When I read this, it just seemed outrageously wrong.  I immediately thought about one of my favorite bloggers, Miss C of The Kitchen’s Garden.  Heaven forbid that her hay bales, laboriously stacked in the barn, start combusting spontaneously.

As an aside, Kelsea had to do her final speech in Public Speaking on a topic about which she was passionate.  She chose spontaneous combustion as her topic.  Only my darling daughter would be passionate about spontaneous combustion.  Blood will tell.  But I learned a few things from her, as she test-drove her presentation on me.  Perhaps I’ll share them in a follow-up post.

As far as exploding hay is concerned, apparently that can happen when there is moisture in the hay when it is baled and stored in a hot barn.  Who knew?  (Well, probably New Zealand farmers knew, but I didn’t.)  The cause is well explained in a cool little blog post by Matthew Gryczan on his SciTechCommunications blog, but I’ll sum it up here for you.

After hay is cut, it still continues to breathe – perhaps I exaggerate, but the image of bales of hay, sitting quietly in a darkened loft, inhaling and exhaling, was too delicious to resist.  It still respirates, if you will, producing heat as it uses oxygen as a catalyst to turn its sugars and starches into CO2. Combine the heat it produces with molds and other biological bugs and materials, and all those life forces churning and munching together can generate heat of 180-210 degrees Farenheit, which is enough, when you add it all up, to make hay explode. While this phenomenon is not widely discussed, it has been documented as far back as 60 B.C. by the Roman philosopher Pliny.  (I wonder if Pliny was also a farmer? Or just very observant?  Or perhaps like an early Roman CSI guy, called in to investigate a murderous exploding haystack?)

As I discovered a couple of years ago, hay is not that comfortable and it is a haven for creepy things that will eat you – or eat other creepy things and leave their carcasses buried in said hay.  So this is just one more reason to squelch any inclinations you may have, on these dog days of summer, to take a snooze in one of those lovely rounded stacks of hay that dot the pastoral fields of our sweltering countryside.

Keep cool and carry on.

July 2012


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