The September moon waxes as it arches across the sky, and its beams light up the edges of the corn leaves, now turning light brown as fall approaches. Soybean fields have a yellow tinge interspersed with the remaining shades of green, but it all projects a sepia look in the moonlight.
It’s a good time to visit my folks’ farm—the crops are nearly ready, my brother has the huge green combine greased up, and Dad has parked two wagons in the shed. It’s the quiet before the harvest storm, and I’m able to sit on the front step and time travel. I slip into my Rocky and Bullwinkle Wayback machine and dial it up for 1967.
A large grain bin sits north of the house, and I see the pilot light flare up and hear the whine of the dryer fan as the heater kicks in. I walk through crunchy leaves and into a cool north breeze that slides in through the pines. The day’s last load of corn sits near the bin, and the auger hypnotizes me as it moves the grain out of the hopper and up the tube. I look back and see low yellow light slanting out of a few house windows, and the dog runs over for a scratch behind the ears.
A lonely twilight falls across the pastures. I crawl up the attached ladder to look in the bin, high enough to see a faint glow in the west. Distant yard lights flicker and neighbors’ tractor lights bounce in the fields, their dim glow shrouded by grain dust. A thin fog of particles rises from the growing pile below me in the bin, and a faint smell of diesel exhaust mixes with the scent of corn kernels and autumn leaves.
I’m only thirty feet off the ground, but the horizon seems to curve off in all directions—I see the silhouettes of the harvest moving along in field after field. The earth rotates in the fading light, and farmers cling to its surface, pulling in the grain they planted four months ago. The harvest is a ritual dance of man, machine, and the good earth.
The USDA is predicting a bin buster this year, and many farmers will approach the coming harvest with modern-day equipment and precision techniques. New combines are like agricultural mega-transformers, and huge semi-trucks move the corn to towering grain elevators in town. It won’t be long before drones and robots complete the harvest while the farmer sits in command central.
The moon has inched a bit higher, and I look across the wide stretch of fields–many farm houses are gone. I no longer hear the neighbor’s dog barking in the distance; pigs don’t lift the feeder lids in the now vacant lot by the barn; smoke-billowing tractors have been replaced by sleek machines. When did so many farms float off the prairie? The harvest will go on—safer, more efficient, but in some ways, a bit lonelier.
Farmers will still work to keep their machines moving; grain will flow into the hoppers; and if I come back to this spot in three weeks, I’ll see Dad driving a load of corn in from the south forty. The lights from my brother’s combine will be bouncing in the terraced field across the creek. And if I climb the old bin they still use, I might not see the chorus of neighbors dancing through nearby fields, but I’ll see a modern version of the cosmic ritual called the harvest.
by dan gogerty (top photo from usda, bottom photo from commonswikimedia.com)