Sunday, October 18, 2009

Little Piece of Heaven

The sun is shinning, the leaves are blowing in the wind, and finally it looks, feels, and smells like fall. Days like today remind me of a day last year when I was walking Dudley and a car stopped beside me to ask for directions. The couple found themselves lost on our road since they had taken a detour through the country. After instructing them about where to go, the woman said, “This is beautiful along here. It’s like Illinois’ best kept secret.” She continued looking at the river bottom and the colorful array of trees, “It’s like your own little piece of heaven!” Yes, where we live is beautiful, especially this time of year when the sun is shinning, the crops are ready to be harvested, and the leaves are starting to turn into orange and yellow. Soon, the trees will really put on a color show as the oranges and yellows become more vibrant and reds and purples mix in. These fall days really make me appreciate country living and feel as though God surrounds us in this beauty. We really do live in a little piece of heaven.

Corn Cobbin'

Yesterday seemed to be the first real day of fall. The sun was shining, farmers were out in the fields, and the air was crisp instead of down-right cold. For the past few weeks, fall has felt like winter with 30 and 40 degree temperatures. It had seemed that we skipped autumn. Finally, we’ve had a weekend where farmers could get to harvesting their crops.
When I left volleyball practice in the morning, I had a smile on my face knowing that the guys were going to be able to get some much needed work done. Along with the lack of sun, we’ve had some rainy days that have frustrated farmers (and farmers’ wives). On my drive home, I admired the color of the corn and bean fields swaying under the sunshine. The ready-to-harvest crop always looks better on sunny days. I called Grant with excitement in my voice. “It’s a great day to get some harvesting done!” I exclaimed.
“Yeah, well, it’d be great if we weren’t broke down,” he replied with disappointment.
The thing is, it can be the nicest day of the year for farmers to plant or harvest crops, but if one of their pieces of equipment breaks down, it can hold them up for minutes, hours, or days. This is something I’ve learned the past two years while being a farmer’s wife. They will work for hours at a time trying to find the problem in a huge piece of equipment only to find that sometimes they can’t fix it themselves. Sometimes reinforcements from the Case IH dealer in Galesburg are called to help with the break down.

Since the field was on my drive home, I told Grant I’d stop by since they were just waiting until the problem was fixed. As I neared the crossroads where they were stopped, I knew it wasn’t a good situation. Two semi-trucks, two grain cart tractors, the big tool truck, a Case IH pickup, and the broken down combine were all sitting on the side of the field. A few men were standing in the field while they watched on as three others were on top of the corn head working to solve the issue (the corn head is the piece that is on the front of the tractor that picks the corn).

I parked my Tahoe off to the side and got out to be greeted by a cold wind. The sunshine was deceiving while I had been in the car. Although it looked like fall, it was still quite chilly. Shivering in my sweatshirt and jeans, I walked carefully through freshly cut corn stalks over to Grant. He had a few corn cobs (without pieces of corn on them) in his hands, but I had no idea what they were for. (These cobs are the ones that the combine shoots out the back once it shucks all the corn kernels off. They can be found all over in freshly picked fields of corn.) Not paying much attention to the corn cobs he was fiddling with, we chatted for a few minutes and then walked over to where a few of the guys were standing next to the corn that had yet to be picked. Grant’s grandfather, Grandpa Strom, and the hired man’s son, Brandon, also had the cobs in their hands. Again, not paying much attention, I continued to talk with them about the break down and about my morning at practice.

All of a sudden, in a stealth attack Brandon started throwing the cobs at Grant and Grandpa Strom. Grant dodged the cobs and started to whip others at Brandon who was then hiding in the rows of corns. Grandpa Strom turned quickly around to whip an entire ear of corn at Brandon, missed him, and almost fell over. I jumped out of the way, not knowing what the heck was going on. Doug, Grant’s dad, saw the fight and laughed as he yelled, “You better watch out, Kristen! They’ve been corn cobbin’ each other while we’ve been waiting.” If corn cobbin’ was in the dictionary, it was be defined as the act of throwing corn cobs at another to pass the time spent in a field while waiting for a break down to be fixed. Since I was more concerned with getting warm, I got in my car and left the guys to their corn cobbin’ and combine fixin’.

She took a truckload of farm to the city

Grant's sister, Joanie, is a writer/stay-at-home mom/gardener extraordinaire/excellent cook/farmgirl. She has become a friend that is also family. She also lives about five miles from us in the country in the house that Grant's mom grew up in. Joanie used to work for the Galesburg newspaper up until she started her family, and she continues to write a column, "At The Farm Gate", for the Knox County Farm Bureau Bulletin that goes out to local members. Whenever the Bulletin is delivered in the mail, I turn to page 2 to read her thoughts for the month. Many times I learn something new from her column and other times it makes me feel like I'm not alone in the experiences I have down here on the farm. This month featured one of my adventures I had the first fall I lived in little Dahinda. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I read it!

At The Farm Gate
A commentary for Illinois’ county farm bureaus
October 2009

She took a truckload of farm to the city

By Joanie Stiers

My sister-in-law once drove to near Chicago with a truck bed packed full of flapping corn stalks and backseat loaded with stuffed garbage bags. She spared space for a weekend travel bag, legroom to drive and window clearance to wave at gawking Friday-night commuters on Interstates 80 and 55.
It seems everyone wants a piece of the farm during fall, even in the confines of suburbia. In fact, my sister-in-law, a suburban native, earned honks and hollers as she distributed straw and corn stalks for fall decorations to relatives and friends. She even drove her outlandish ride into gated communities, where friends looked forward to a piece of her farm.
Both she and I also enjoy the traditional d├ęcor here and have the advantage of growing it. But as Americans distance themselves from farms and the horse-drawn farming days, decorating with straw and specifically corn shocks continues by tradition, rather than purpose. It is intended to celebrate the harvest bounty. The use of corn shocks originated as a way to recall when farmers hand-cut corn and placed them in shocks throughout the field. Mechanization ended the practice, but the corn shock lives on in rural and urban settings alike.
And as retailers know, some traditions must be bought. My sister-in-law earned enough to pay for the trip’s fuel and a steak dinner for two. Recently, my daughter thrust her pointer finger and cheered as she spotted a 10-foot wall of straw bales for sale at the grocery store. The bales arrived just in time for the first day of fall. (This sighting occurred two hours after we watched an employee decorate a Christmas tree at a local department store.) Anyway, the grocer had enough straw to bed down the 4-H cattle barn fourfold at the county fairgrounds.
My sister-in-law delightfully offered to take some of this homegrown bounty outside her back door to the front door of her suburban childhood home. It seemed an appropriate business venture for this woman with urban connections. Mom helped her cut corn stalks to the appropriate length, pack the truck topper and force the tailgate closed. They shoved straw bales into 55-gallon trash bags to reduce the evidence that a scarecrow had been abused in the backseat.
By her first fall on the farm, she felt like a farmgirl when she swung a corn knife that seemed as old as someone’s great-great grandfather. It was a memorable moment that observed the past while celebrating today’s harvest.