Now at the beginning of December, we midwestern country people on our flatlands can see our whole world again. The corn harvest is over, mostly, and surprise, surprise, the neighboring farmsteads are still there on the horizon where they always have been, and the courthouse off in the distance, and the grain elevators, and the church spires. It is as if we had been living in a forest the past three months, with the corn just high enough so that we could not see over it, and suddenly all the trees were stripped away. There was a comfort in that summer snugness, a kind of intimacy with one’s own place that all country people love, but it is reassuring and comforting to know, now as winter comes on, that we are not alone.
Also, I can go back to my favorite pastime,— staring out across the fields. Farmers are poor car drivers because we are always looking to see how the crops are growing. Now with the corn off, we can see as far as the eye can focus and so are an absolute menace on the roads. The only thing that saves us are spouses who insist, in fear of their lives, on taking over the driving chores.
The fact that there are no crops to watch now does not mean that there is not plenty for farmer eyes to see. What in the world is “Tom” doing over there ? — oh, I see, he’s chiseling corn stubble for next year’s beans. And there’s “Mary” disking bean ground for next year’s corn. And, oh yes, we all know what “Harry” is doing. That liquid pig manure he’s spreading has a smell that will go for a mile or two with the right wind.
Because we have had a fairly dry November, almost all the fields have been fall-cultivated whether they need to be or not. Agronomists like to call it “recreational tillage.” Farmers so love to drive their big rigs over the land while listening to football games, that they will use any excuse for doing so. Working up the soil in the fall means it will dry out on top a few days sooner in spring, which might be critical to getting the planting done on time. One of my many mystifications about human nature is how tilled bare acres are still referred to as “no till.” They will be planted with no till planters next spring, don’t you see. The only thing that saves these fields is that they are fairly level and, with the heavy residue of corn stalks incorporated into the soil surface, will not erode much. The bared soybean stubble ground on sloping land is a different story. .
Even when I am at home, I spend inordinate amounts of time just staring across the fields. I have stared across the same ones for seventy years now and still delight in it. I guess that’s why I never seem to have time for the leisure activities that other people engage in. Too busy just loafing. But after the endless acres of bare soil I see on trips to town, it is comforting to look out over my and my siblings’ fields of grass rolling down to the creek. The bluegrass is still so green this year on the last day of November that if I stare only at it and shield my eyes from the bordering brown woodland, I can almost imagine that it is May. Not to mention the red clover and alfalfa which must think it is still October. If the weather stays above freezing another week or so, the grass could remain green for grazing almost to Christmas. I can stare forever at these fields because I know that farmed this way, they could last forever.
Image credit: Thanks to Susan Thomas at Farmgirl Fare