What better way to revel in fall’s wondrous display of colors and brisk weather than to wend your way through the woods perched atop a hay bale on the back of a wagon? Now that’s fall!
Having spent a good number of my childhood afternoons amid the wooded acres of my grandparents’ farm, it simply doesn’t feel like fall for me until I partake in a seasonal hayride. Of course, those rambling rides of my youth usually entailed chugging past the cornfields, over the hills and down into a valley adjacent to the wooded fence line to forage for hickory nuts underneath a canopy of brilliant yellows and rusty reds. Once my grandmother and I had filled our pails, buckets and bushel barrels with those meaty little nuts, we’d climb back into the wagon, sit atop our wobbly bales and enjoy the autumn afternoon as my grandpa pulled us back home behind the tractor.
My introduction to fall hayrides may have been simple transportation to and from one of nature’s generous little food supplies, but the beauty and simplicity of those rides wasn’t lost on me. When my kids were younger, I decided it simply wouldn’t do to find the winter winds descending upon us without having taken time out for a fall hayride. As luck would have it, a large regional park/nature reserve in the area was not only home to acres upon acres of wooded splendor, but was also open for business for those looking to hire a hay wagon. This would be a perfect family activity, I decided!
We gathered the extended family one Saturday afternoon in late October and clambered atop bales stacked on a large flatbed wagon. Imagine the kids’ delight when they discovered that this ride would not be powered by a pickup or a tractor, but two gentle giant draft horses! Some coaxing was needed to convince the kids to leave the horses be and climb up on the wagon.
A two-hour ride through woodlands and fields was just enough time for children of all ages to jump and play in the loose hay before snuggling down into their parents’ straw- and hay-covered laps as the day grew cooler. The afternoon sun illuminated the hues of the season, setting the leaves ablaze in autumn tones of reds, oranges, coppers, yellows and golds. I sat back, my three-year-old daughter in my lap, thinking that fall drives are heavenly, but you miss out on the fresh, cool air in your face and the squirmy, giggling straw-covered urchin in your lap.
When the horses finally pulled the wagon to a gentle, swaying stop, kids and adults jumped down, brushed themselves free of straw and chaff, and ambled toward the picnic area where a bonfire and hotdog roasting sticks were at the ready. The hot mulled apple cider that awaited us helped ward off the chill in the air as my husband and I helped the kids hold their hotdogs over the flames. Later, after a potluck supper, the marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers were brought out – a perfect ending to a perfect day. Ooey-gooey s’mores and hot chocolate as the sun set on a lovely fall day.
Don’t let this fall escape without finding an apple orchard, park or farm to partake in a fall hayride.