National Geographic : 2013 Jul
112 national geographic • july 2013 is essentially medieval. Millions of people in Romania work on farms, with the smallest herds, the lowest yields, some of the highest levels of self-sufficiency, and among the lowest incomes in Europe. The average farm is eight acres. More than 60 percent of the milk produced in the country comes from farmers with two or three cows, almost none of it leaving the farm where it was produced. The mathematics is both simple and tyrannical. One cow eats four or more tons of hay in winter. That amount of hay needs up to five acres of ground to grow and might take ten hot, hard days just to mow. If you’re mowing alone and with a scythe, as still happens over large areas of the uplands, three cows mean a month of mowing. But that is only the start of it. Each piece of grass must be handled ten or more times. First it is mown; then the mown stems must be raked into small heaps that don’t absorb the dew; then spread again in the next day’s sun to dry; then turned in the sunshine to dry the underlay- ers; gathered into a haystack in the field; even- tually loaded onto a cart, a haystack on wheels, with the butterflies dancing up above the loaded hay; driven down the lanes to the homestead, where the horses are fed on the hay they have drawn there; unloaded at the barn into a deli- ciously rich-smelling heap like a dry, summer bouillabaisse; stacked high into the eaves of the barn—the chickens kicked out first so they aren’t smothered under the arriving hay—where it gathers as a rustling green fabric (“it must sound right; unless it sounds right, it won’t taste right”) in which the flowers retain their blues and yel- lows and reds; then, when the winter comes and the cows are brought in from the pastures, the hay for their daily bite must be cut from the dense body of the stack and finally fed to the animals beneath in their mangers. known.” It’s a handmade world, largely unmecha- nized, too steep for reseeding, so people have come to know exactly what is there. Nowhere else, Molnár suggests, can people distinguish in their local vocabulary such a high number of separate habitats: shady, damp, steep, woody, mossy, and so on. “The average in the world is between 25 and 40,” he says. “ The maximum any- one has found elsewhere is 100. Here in Gyimes it’s at least 148.” There is a powerful chain of connections at work here. In the summer the grass of the pas- tures feeds the one or two family cows. But in the six-month stretch from mid-November to mid-May, they must remain inside, where the hay provides their only sustenance. Only hay makes keeping cows a possibility, and only milk from cows makes human life viable here. People in Transylvania live on the nutrient transfer from meadow to plate. That is why, in these valleys, hay is the measure of all things. When Réka Simó, Attila’s wife, who was brought up in Budapest in Hungary, first came to Gyimes, she could not believe how “people would only ever walk in single file through the mead- ows.” It was as if, she says, “the meadows were holy ground. As though these Transylvanians were living in a world dedicated to St. Grass.” In a sense these Transylvanian farmers do live on the hay. Across the whole region, from Ro- manian-speaking Maramureș in the north to the ethnically Hungarian provinces in the center of the country and to villages occupied by German- speaking Saxons, the scale of their operations Anyone over 20 years old can recognize and name more than 120 In winter Adam Nicolson’s 16 beef cattle eat 90 tons of hay, made on his farm in the south of England. Photographer Rena Effendi grew up in the U.S.S.R. and has focused her work on the post-Soviet world.