Friday, October 1, 2021

The Harvest


Every year seems to bring one week like this one. The weather is perfect in northeast Indiana. Our forecast called for mid to upper 70s, sunny skies and a light breeze and so far it has held true. With the humid days of summer behind us and the long winter where we don't see the sun very much ahead, time seems suspended for just a few days, long enough for the harvest.

One of the things we really love about where we live is how connected we are with the changing of the seasons. It isn't like living in suburbia where you know what season it is based on which holiday the stores are featuring. Here you see the weather turning warmer and the fields being planted. Baby colts are born and running around like crazy in their pasture. The Amish women race to be the first to get out in their garden and have their flowers planted. Pretty soon the planting of crops starts and the barren fields turn from brown to vibrant green.

Then seemingly overnight, after a few cool evenings, those green fields turn golden brown and then start to disappear. The harvest represents an ancient rite of human society that stretches back to mankind's first civilizations. The hard labor of the spring and summer yields the bounty of the harvest in the fall and with it the promise of surviving yet another winter, or in modern times the relief that comes from being able to pay the bills and purchase seed and fertilizer for the next spring. 

This is a common scene around rural America but where we live there is something else that makes the harvest so wonderful.

In a unique and initially jarring contrast we also have the local Amish harvesting their crops. In one field you have a state of the art John Deere combine, a machine that will set you back in excess of half a million dollars, with the ability to cut up to 18 rows of corn at a time sweeping through fields, casting the discarded husks and stalks behind before emptying into huge tractor trailer trucks, trucks often lined up three deep because a modern combine can fill a tractor trailer faster than they can get to the grain elevator to dump the crop before rushing back. The pinnacle of American agricultural progress and innovation on display. 

In the next field you might have a team of four Belgian draft horses plodding slowly but surely through a field of corn, pulling a corn picker that harvests two rows at a time. In the place of the roar of a combine engine and clouds of dust there is the much quieter sound of a single row corn head running and the jangle of the horse's harness. Instead of corn that has been plucked from the stalk, husk removed and shaken and sifted through screens leaving just the kernel behind, the Amish fill their wagons with corn still on the cob. Rather than ending up in giant concrete silos, their corn often ends up in corn cribs at their home to be fed to their animals over the winter and spring. While they have some modern conveniences, they harvest their crops in much the same way that farmers did in those same fields 100 years ago. Reminiscent of an agricultural John Henry versus the steam powered hammer, the Amish thrive using methods that seem quaint to our eyes and yet they prosper, often beyond their "English" counterparts.

The harvest is a season of accomplishment and consummation but it is also a wistful and melancholy time. The promise of harvest, just a whisper and a hope in spring as bare fields sit seemingly dormant while the seeds beneath the soil stir and grow unseen, has come to fruition. In normal years all the worry and fretting of impotently watching the weather to catch a window between the time the crops are ready and the fall rains vanishes as the crops come off as they almost always do. Farming makes for a powerful dichotomy. On the one hand farmers today have unimaginable technology at their fingertips. Precision farming, super efficient machinery, hybrid crops that produce unnatural yields, chemicals of all sorts to increase productivity and eliminate weeds and pests, all work together to squeeze every possible bushel out of an acre of land. Yet in spite of all the technology the farmer still spends most of the year on the sidelines, completely helpless waiting on the weather. Is it warm enough to plant but dry enough to get in the field? Is it hot and sunny but not too dry in the summer? Are the crops mature and dry enough to harvest but has the rain held off so we can get those green, red and orange behemoth machines in the field to harvest? I can't think of another economic endeavor that is so critical to our national economic security, simultaneously as ancient as mankind itself and yet driven by technology, that is still dependent on something as fickle and primal as the weather. Around here the weather has been near perfect, springtime planting went off without a hitch and we had a ton of rain and hot, humid weather when the corn was really stretching out. The yields locally are going to be amazing. 

There is something sad about the vast fields bereft of crops. Where once there were acres of tall, green corn softly rustling in the wind there is now only stubble. I know that empty fields mean successful harvests and that those fields are testament to overflowing grain silos holding the American treasure from the breadbasket of our nation. I know that many farm families are smiling as they get their checks, the reward for a year of hard work and worrying. Still they make me sad. Empty bean and corn fields mean that winter is coming, just around the corner. The days will grow shorter and the extra darkness each day that I dread is also on the horizon. The joy of spring with new life in budding plants, fields being planted, lambs and foals being born, it all seems so far away, a distant and unattainable dream. I know that the winter is but a brief interlude and soon enough the horse drawn planters will be working the fields alongside massive tractors but that certainty is not enough to offset the melancholy that invariably settles on me each year at this time.

It is all part of the love-hate relationship so many of us have with the Midwest. Ours is a region that is sneered at by other parts of the country, derided as "fly over" country, an obstacle to get through as quickly as possible as the elites go from one fabulous place to another. It is a vast, flat landscape that is so awful to drive through but for many of us it is home, something deeply connected with who we are. So many of us strive for relevance and hipness but choose to live in a decidedly un-hip and in the eyes of many irrelevant region. In spite of the melancholy I feel in fall, the humid summers, muddy springs and freezing winters there is nowhere else that we feel so at home. This is where we belong, amid the generally simple people who make their living building stuff, moving stuff and of course farming. It is not glamorous, just like our football teams in the Big Ten are not glamorous (and not very good right now) but it is home.

In a world where it is easy to get completely black-pilled and feeling hopeless about the future, the harvest reminds me that for most of us the rhythms of life that have existed for thousands of years still go on. All the more reason to get out of the cities and suburbs and out to somewhere you can feel the natural world's rhythms and patterns. That can be one of the very best antidotes to the sickness of living in a world gone mad.

23 comments:

  1. We rented the big ranch house on top of our hill here on the homestead to some folks fleeing the big city . They moved in and we have barely seen them except for her leaving for work and the ashen gray child walking down the drive to get the school bus . They have never walked the farm and seen the wonders of the jungle like forest that crosses the river and ends a half mile back on the plateau even though I've invited them . Every meal is bought at one of the fast food joints in the local village and the fire rings placed strategically by the river and on the corner of the hill overlooking the pond and river valley go unused . They spend every waking moment watching the tv or playing games on the computer . Berries went unpicked and now the wild black walnuts are falling unnoticed by the city folks . You can take the folks out of the city but you can't take the city out of the folks . I suppose that like the rest of them after a bad winter they will like the proverbial sow , go back to their wallow .

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    1. When we last lived in a suburb almost 11 years ago, even then, it was amazing how silent the neighborhood was most of the time. You never saw the kids except getting on the bus and never saw the parents. With our 8 kids and a stay at home mom we were always a beehive of activity in an otherwise sterile area.

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  2. Speaking of harvests... I just harvested another 25 pounds of Sour Diesel Lemon Kush. Lost 7 big 9 footers to the drought and now we have 2 days of rain hammering my Blackjack and left over Sour Diesel. Mix of bitter sweet at the moment. I'm glad it's fall and I can focus on the indoor stuff for a bit. It's been a tough year but we made it through.

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    1. I had to DuckDuckGo that, no idea what it is

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    2. That is a nice harvest, in spite of the loss. SD is a nice strain. Congratulations and best of luck on your indoor crop!

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    3. Gorilla Glue and Skywalker OG in the winter. Maybe take some clones for early spring. I want to go at least 25% greater this year. Spending some coin on drip irrigation over the winter.

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  3. You paint a very appealing picture Arthur. I've got to get out of CA and back into the real world. I used to be surrounded by orchards, now we're surrounded by condominium complexes and endless traffic... In my youth Fall meant harvesting 30-35 gallons of walnuts from the backyard, and shelling them with a hammer for mom's holiday baking. Now Fall means holing up and staying away from the psychotic "shopping season". Its a sad state of affairs.

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    1. I dread the "holiday" shopping season with a passion.

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    2. Just do it. I was born and raised in Muncie, Indiana, left it at the age of fifteen, lived all over the US in big cities, finishing with 35 years in San Francisco. But I left to return to Indiana, and ended up in La Porte, a town I was barely familiar with.

      Still, it felt like returning home. Five years later, it still does.

      Well, except for that part where I live about ten feet from the line between Eastern and Central time, which still confuses me.

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  4. Nice article, makes me wonder why I need to read the bad news every morning soaking up a lot of time. Here in Texomaland, Amish are either off my radar or super few in number. My dump trailer made in nearby Bonham is supposedly a Mennonite operation. I know some of their fine farming practices from reading Gene Logsden.

    The article prompted me to re-listen to Dr Allen Williams on the Sustainable Dish podcaster episode 100. Williams is already a good guy since he pronounces soil as 'soul'. He works with Gabe Brown, 'nuff said.

    The entire pod is gold but at about 10:00 he talks about a county in Mississippi that had over 600 small dairies and 5 creameries and all the allied businesses associated. Today there is 1 dairy there. In Van Alstyne, Texas near me I know on Saturdays many 1000s of people came to town for semi-pro baseball, opera, and other stuff. Today, nope.

    While I'm happy to be rural and have had a couple of needed surgeries that weren't available back in the day, I wish some of that back in the day era could come back.

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    1. Something similar is happening here with our Amish, a bunch of them used to milk cows but it tied them down so one by one they stopped milking. A lot of them barely have enough chores to keep the kids busy and that is leading to a surge in fat young Amish kids.

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    2. Oh, and I will check out that podcast, looks like an interesting listen.

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  5. I thought y'all only had two seasons in Indiana...Winter and highway construction.

    That was my experience in and around Indianapolis.

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  6. "God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore." Nice prose man... linked it at my house. You've made me yearn for the days of my Yoot, rolling hills, fresh cut hay.... dammit them days are long past unfortunately.

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    1. Full disclosure, most of this post is from an older post on my old blog, slightly edited and revised, but that post got a lot of positive feedback

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  7. There is a reason I have joked about heading east of here to become amish. Will work for food in need be.

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    1. The biggest draw to be Amish is the gaggle of young women who are obedient and hard working.

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    2. With the skyrocketing price of food these days, you might have to.

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    3. Aurthur,
      Thank you for your post, harvest is always a satisfying time to me. My father was born on a farm in North Dakota, got out and wanted to be a city kid (he succedded), but he always felt a kinship with farming.
      I have always seen harvest as the payoff to hard work. I suppose many people hate the winter, but remember, fruit like Apples, Peaches and Cherries, all need a dormancy period of winter.

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  8. It's a time for reflection, and finishing preps. Best time of the year. Something tells me this will be a long, hard winter.

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  9. Beautiful post. The old ways are the best ways.

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