Monday, October 20, 2008

Harvest in the Heartland - Part 1

The behemoth rolls through the tawny gold field, devouring everything in its ponderous path, spewing out an enormous horizontal whirlwind of chaff, dirt and stalks behind it. Slowly, inexorably it consumes dozens of rows at a time, cutting a swath through stems bursting with soybean pods. In one fell swoop, the machine separates the precious beans from pods and stems, storing them temporarily in its enormous belly.

She stands beside the tractor, waiting for the monster to disgorge its contents into the first grain wagon. The noise is deafening, even though she blocks her ears as best she can. As much as she hates the noise, the grit is even worse. The handkerchief tied across her mouth and nose does essentially nothing to keep the fine grit from permeating her mouth, her nostrils, her throat, her lungs, and even her ears. By the end of the long day, she will feel as if the grit has invaded clear to her eye sockets through every pore of her body. The combination of taste, smell and grubbiness of the grit lingers for days after the harvest is completed, in spite of long, hot showers. She tries to hold back the inevitable coughing fit, at least until the monster moves past her to the second wagon. Sometimes she succeeds, but barely.

I was raised on a fifty-acre farm just outside a small town in central Illinois (the Prairie State). Dad worked long hours as a welder in a factory, plus he farmed corn or beans in his “spare” time. We were within ten miles of a community of about 30,000 and some sixty miles from Chicago, in the middle of the grain heartland and in my mind it was the perfect place to raise a large family. We had the best of both worlds: a wholesome country lifestyle with a strong sense of community and all the urban benefits of good schools and plenty of cultural activities to keep seven kids challenged and out of trouble.

In spite of all the dirt, grime and grunge involved in the harvest, I always loved the Fall season: kids returning to school, cheering for the home team at football games, “leaf peeping” as the trees miraculously transform from boring greens to glorious autumn colors, and watching the harvest progress from field to field, restoring the wide open spaces to the land I love. Once the harvest is complete, we’ll be able to once again enjoy an unobstructed view from horizon to horizon, some ten miles or more in each direction. This is God’s Country and, for me, the best place on Earth to live.

What do YOU remember from growing up? Please let me know in Comments.


Susan Kuhn Frost said...

Thanks for the inside scoop on how physically taxing farming can be despite all the machinery. I drive carefully now past the huge John Deere corn harvesters making their way here in Bucks County, PA. Finally saw one taking up the last foot of corn stalks. Many farms have carved mazes and I hope to get to one before we move at the end of the month. I will miss these two years in the country!

Elizabeth (Beth) LaMie said...

When driving through the country recently, it struck me how most people know very little about farming. I hope this series of blogs will give them a bit of understanding.

Trish said...

Hi, just visiting here from Grow Together. What a great description - you can really feel like you are there. I am originally from the Quad Cities and had many friends who worked summers detasseling corn.

Elizabeth (Beth) LaMie said...

I have had such a marvelous time recalling memories from growing up on the farm. Glad you can relate tot ehm, too,

Rachel Cornell said...

I always idealized farm life until in university I went to a friends family farm for a long weekend. The long hours they worked and all the countless worries like the ones you talked about, really opened my eyes.

So one little fall memory I am thinking about is pressing fall leaves in waxed paper. Did you ever do that? I remember searching for the most lovely leaf and then ironing it between two sheets of waxed paper and tah dah, it was preserved...As a small child this was really cool for some reason.

Oh, and learning to trace around my hand to have the starts of an outline of a turkey. Loved that. Think I'm going to go draw a turkey now. Hmm I'm going to need some crayons!

Elizabeth (Beth) LaMie said...


Thanks for the comments. Yes, there is a lot of work on a farm, but most of the time it is very rewarding. I've always loved Fall and pressed may leaves growing up. In fact, I considered doing some this morning because the colors are so vivd this year.