He might deny it, but Wyatt McWilliams isnít having a good summer.
First, thereís the matter of his progressively degenerative, genetic eye disease. He lives with it and functions with it, but itís an ongoing hindrance, especially to a farmer who needs clear vision at least as much as the other senses.
He has learned to get around the disability as he did when he hosted provincial Opposition agriculture critic Ernie Hardemanís Eastern Ontario drought road show July 30.
Wyatt got a call asking if Hardeman and other Progressive Conservatives could hold a media scrum at his place outside Navan about Liberal government inaction in declaring the east a "prescribed drought region" which would trigger disaster relief for farmers.
As it turned out, OMAFRA Minister Ted McMeekin was preparing to announce that very action at about the same time Ernie was calling for it. That didnít take away from the fact it was an informative meeting in a perfect location, especially when the complimentary barbecue is considered.
With some help, Wyatt was the perfect host. He welcomed area farmers who came to hear what Hardeman had to say, seating everyone in his spacious shed, part of which is rented out, part of which houses mementos from the world famous 50 Horse Hitch he organized with father Willard at the Navan Fair in 1995.
For some time now, anyone coming up to say hello to Wyatt must identify himself no matter how well known he or she might be. Wyatt can only see shadows, not details... not that politicians canít be shadowy figures to the rest of us too.
Luckily, he has three daughters who help him get where he has to be on the farm, and other companions who lead him through public functions.
While he still puts in a full dayís work in, there are times, Wyatt says, when he feels disoriented in his own barnyard.
He indicates a silo that, because of the light right at the moment, he can vaguely make out. If the light isnít right, he canít distinguish it. At one point, we weíre crossing a fence when he stumbled on the other side into a round hay bale.
"That bale isnít supposed to be there," he explained. We joke heís lucky it wasnít a stone wall.
On top of the sight issue, heís dealing with current drought conditions like many other farmers. His pastures have faded and heís been feeding hay to his 50 head of mature beef cattle and 30 calves for the past two weeks, something that wouldnít normally happen until the fall.
Then there are the 15 Clydesdales, major hay burners, which are making a huge dent in reserves. But Wyatt isnít about to get rid of any Clydes, one of the McWilliamsesí many claims to fame.
Wyatt grows his own hay on part of his 80 acres, which helps. This summer, like so many others, he got a good first cut, no second cut, with chances of a third cut slim to nil.
Like many others in the greater Ottawa area, the McWilliams got a solid rainfall July 23 but nothing since as the area chalked up the driest July on record.
So thereís the vision issue, the drought... and then right in the middle of it all a big wind ripped the tin roof back on his hay storage like a tin of sardines, exposing dry hay to the elements. He managed to tarp it up so that none will be spoiled although thereís still that building to repair.
Hardeman commented that at least the roof job will provide work to a local contractor: "Yea, me," Wyatt quipped.
Another potential disaster in the making is the provincial governmentís stated preference to relocate slots from Rideau Carleton Raceway to a new downtown Ottawa casino, something the equine industry insists will be the end of the track. Wyatt sells hay to the track and would sorely miss that source of revenue.
Yet the co-founder of Food Aid, which provides ground beef to the Ottawa Food Bank, and of Hay West, which 10 years ago delivered 712 rail car and 161 transport truck loads of hay to drought-stricken Alberta and Saskatchewan, keeps smiling, at least in public.
To those who suggest itís time for a "Hay East" to repay a good deed done a decade ago, Wyatt says itís too soon to call the current Eastern Ontario drought a crisis, certainly not to the extent of the BSE border lockdown eight years ago.
He doesnít feel western farmers owe him anything: "There was so much hay around here in 2002, we didnít know what to do with it all. And I went out west to see what was going on. Their crops were turning to dust in the fields. It was much worse than this."
Over the years, Wyatt has been described as a hero and an inspiration. Guys like him donít expect payback.