Monday, October 16, 2006

Harvest Moon

The harvest moon, one day past full, hangs heavily in the eastern sky as I left the confines of the soft yellow light spilling from the kitchen windows of the farmhouse and walked down the gravel driveway to the shop. The air, though cooler, was not yet the crisp fall air that would arrive in another week but it was still refreshing. The smell of cornstalks stripped of their bounty, still filled the air with their earthy aroma. The dryer fan cooling down a batch of corn in the grain bins on the northwest corner of the farmstead kicks in as heated gas is added to the mix. The collection of deer antlers lodged in the lower branches of the Chinese elm tree seemingly glow a ghostly white.

When I got to the shop, I quietly stepped into the darkness through the side door and made my way to the center of the large sliding doors. I've been away from the farm fifteen years and I still know exactly how many steps it takes me to reach that spot and slip the catch chain off the rod. I couldn't tell you an actual number but I know when I get there. I grab the handle and push the south door open, again instinctively pushing harder the last three feet where the door opens harder. Moonlight fills half of the shop bay so I don't have to rely on instinct to find the north door and slide it open. Before I head back towards the farmhouse, I walk over to the side door and reluctantly flip on the overhead lights so that my father can see to pull the combine inside for the evening. It's a little tighter fit than myself so he can't rely on instinct alone.

Halfway back to the house I pause, caught in a world of darkness between two lighted ones. The large doors of the shop cast their light out towards me but fell short, the farmhouse kitchen lights also reached out invitingly but were a long way from reaching me. Only the moon with its soft blue light made it to where I stood but unlike the other too lights with siren's song-like properties, the light of the moon seemed to tell a story. It was the story of the ongoing harvest, one that I know all to well.

The weather in this part of Iowa had been favorable for crops and post pollination estimates looked bountiful. But farmers know that you can't count your eggs before they are hatched and you can't count the grain until it is safely stored in bins and cooled down for long term storage. So when a windstorm arrived a month before harvest and blew a half mile wide swath through that part of the county laying down 400 acres of my parents corn on the ground and leaving another 400 acres at a rakish angle, they knew they were going to have to work a little harder before they could count their eggs.

Farmers are a tough breed of folks and don't complain much. Complaining never brought the crops in. Instead, they do what they have too. Harvest is now almost a month old and last week, my parents finally got through the 400 worst acres of corn averaging about 20 acres a day, a day being about sixteen hours long. Normally they could get through 100 acres a day but then normally the corn was standing upright in long orderly rows. It shows on their faces and in their postures and I wish I could shoulder some of the burden but my life has taken me down a different road. Instead, I just do what I can when I can to lighten that burden even if just for an hour once a week.

The gas kicks out on the dryer fan and I take one last look at the worn harvest moon, the same moon shining over a combine five miles away in a blown down field of corn trying to pull the stalks up enough to strip them of their ears of corn. I surrender to the glow of the kitchen lights and go inside the farmhouse to start supper, still probably an hour from being eaten by the time the combine and tractors are fueled and parked for the night and already later than most bedtimes.

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