Sitting quiet all summer, verdant green and growing ripe from their start as tiny seeds in the spring, crop fields have turned beige, and their caretakers are out there, ushering in the next, and final chapter, of corn stalks or soybean plants or wheat kernels. It is a fascinating time of year, this annual rite called harvest, when the fields and dusty roads and dusty towns in the rural countryside come alive.
The drone of laboring tractors accompanies each morning's sunrise, and hangs on the crispy autumn air all day. Extra large, mighty machines with names like John Deere and Oliver and International Harvester make their way through the fields, back and forth and back again, cutting peeling husking loading their assigned crop from the day's first light until well into the night. Tall as a building, some of these mechanical beasts snarl with snouts of horizontal teeth, chewing up rows of weather and time-grizzled corn in wide bites, digesting a booty of golden kernels into its belly and passing the tasteless skin and former parent cobs on to the dirt in its wake. After a long and gluttonous meal, the menacing red and green and yellow leviathans are joined by others of the same ilk, pulling hoppers alongside, and into those gaping maws go millions of bite-sized corn kernels, departing the only home they knew for the final time.
On a gravel road a few miles southeastwest of town, dust billows in dry, grit-laden clouds, left behind from the rear ends of lumbering semi trucks hauling corn to drying elevators, and pickup trucks hauling the rear ends of farmers hither and yon. The dust drifts with the afternoon wind, over the field and on to the ball cap-covered head and broad shoulders of four locals, leaning against the cracked rubber of a tractor tire, a fence post, a truck fender. The men all stem from fiercely proud generations of tireless workers, and not a one of them can imagine life any other way. One of them coughs and spits out a mouthful of the dust cloud, reaches up and takes off his cap, broken in from three years of rain and sun and sweat, its faded logo advertising the farmer's tractor of choice barely visible beneath yesterday's grime. He slaps the cap on the side of his thigh, awakening a new billow of dust from his pants, which floats around in no particular direction, settling back on to his cap before it returns to his head. The men lament the dry weather, complain about a broken driveshaft, and proffer their opinions on this year's crop prices. Later that evening, they gather in a corner booth at a dimly-lit tavern, take long pulls from stubby glass mugs of beer, and lament the dry weather or complain about the combine’s broken driveshaft.
And so it will be, for a few more weeks, until the last cob is husked and kernel is squirreled away, and the sun sets on another season. Until the fields are disked into lumpy furrows, slowly frozen with frost, and blanketed under a shroud of white.
On a rusty railroad spike driven into a splintered wooden post in the doorway of a barn, hangs a dusty ball cap, patiently waiting for the sunrise of spring, the start of a new season, new crops, new dust.