Used Hay

Ever since I was first introduced to the phrase “used hay recycler”, emblazoned on a man’s baseball cap in what looked like very thick icing, I occasionally find myself wondering what it means. Used hay recycler? Last time I checked, hay isn’t something you can recycle.

Like, what could he have possibly been getting at?

Months later, it finally clicked. It must’ve been some kind of deeply inside joke about horse shit. Duh.

As I had my epiphany, I could see the guy cackling somewhere in a dark room, a harvest moon pouring brilliant orange light over his grin through a slit in the blinds.

Granted, there’s probably another a dimension to that damn phrase that I still haven’t noticed, but I’m satisfied – for now – with my flimsy grasp on it.

Oh, and this guy? The first words I heard him say were, “Yeah, don’t worry, I shot ’em.” Our guide, of course, was referring to myself and a fellow traveler. He was in a white pickup truck, if I remember correctly, parked outside of a recreated Fort Lancaster.


Super artsy photo from inside Fort Vasquez, a different fort just north of Fort Lancaster.

Originally built in the 1830s, Fort Lancaster was a fur trading outpost way out on the Colorado priaire, taking advantage of the nearby South Platte River. Made mostly out of adobe, it has a real Southwest quality to it. When you first see it, looming a ways off of the big, modern highway, you half-expect the world to turn into black and white, a Mexican man with a theatrical mustache leading a squat donkey up to the fort.

When you step out of the car, he asks you that fateful question: “Senor?”

Hijinks ensue.

Fort Lancaster doesn’t get too many random visitors now. I’m sure it’s pretty busy some days, especially for events, but it was fairly desolate the day I went. Our guide wore overalls and smoked cigarettes, the former iconoclastic and the latter increasingly so. He gave us a quick tour of the grounds, showing off the quality of the construction and filling us in on some random historical details.

You can go inside the rooms and everything, and it’d be easy to think you were looking at a careful renovation, not a full rebuild with a few extant scraps thrown in. It’s a true community asset.

The experience was cheapened a tad when the guide hawked some dinky trinkets to raise funds for the fort (I’d already paid for the tour). But then again, maybe that kind of enterprising spirit more accurately reflects the true personality of an old trading outpost. A good fleecing or two never hurt anyone, right?

Just as the tour is wrapping up, our guide offhandedly mentioned something specific about how many men and women were buried outside of the fort. This is when things got interesting. I asked how he knew that, since there were no grave markers or signs of excavation.

I expected him to tell him that the fort kept meticulous records or what have you – but nope, he’d figured all this out using divining rods.

He’d hold two L-shaped metal rods in his hands, the long ends pointing out perpendicular to his body, but perfectly parallel to the other rod. Depending on whether the rods crossed or moved apart over a believed burial spot, he could tell if it was a man or woman buried there. The rods picked up on the “energy” their earthly remains gave off, moving in response, as if our spirits possess a worldly half-life that radiates for centuries after we die.


Leaving Fort Lancaster, I noticed a flying saucer-shaped lenticular cloud. Creepy.

It’s a nice thought, though far from scientific. “Dowsing” – which is what you’d call what our guide was engaged in – is classified as Grade A pseudoscience. Not that scientists are good for much.

Our guide even brought out his rods and let me take a swing at identifying bodies. My findings mostly aligned with his, though he felt I’d need a little practice to get up to speed. Apparently practice, for us correctly attuned individuals, makes perfect.

It’s just fascinating, the kind of people these old places can bring together? You’d never have a day like this at Walmart. I guess it really does take a certain kind of energy.


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