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Interpreting the hum of harvest

By Staff | Nov 23, 2018

If you grow up in the country, or live in a rural area, you quickly discover there’s a rhythm of the seasons. What’s less obvious is the soundtrack that accompanies this rhythm, especially at harvest.

I was thinking about this on a recent October evening. I had taken my dog, Maggie the Red Heeler, on a walk to see how things were coming along as my brother, Jason, combined corn. It was one of those beautiful fall evenings-no wind, and fairly warm, with a spectacular western sky painted in delicate, vibrant, shades of pink, purple and blue as the sun slipped beyond the horizon.

As we walked, we could hear the far-off hum of the combine as my brother turned the machine around at the far end of the row. Also audible was the hum of grain-bin dryer in the distance.

For some reason, those familiar sounds of harvest made me think of the book “The Quiet Season: Remembering Country Winters” by Wisconsin author Jerry Apps. He describes how winter influenced farm families and suggests that those of us who grow up with harsh northern winters are profoundly affected in ways we often are not aware.

“As I think back to the days of my childhood, the frost-covered windows in my bedroom, the frigid walks to the country school, the excitement of a blizzard, and a hundred other memories, I realize that these experiences left an indelible mark on me and made me who I am today,” Jerry writes.

I know that growing up on a farm and living in the country near my family’s Century Farm have left an indelible mark on me. The farm taught me the importance of family, honoring those who came before, working together, sticking with tasks until the job is done, respecting Mother Nature and never taking life for granted.

I forget sometimes that this view of life is novel to others. The rhythm and hum of rural life, especially in the fall, are not only far removed from my big-city relatives and friends, but they can seem distant to fellow Iowans who live in metro areas.

I was reminded of this when the fine folks at the Shenandoah Public Library invited me to present my “Culinary History of Iowa” program this year. My host, the delightful Carole Dailey, mentioned that she grew up in Des Moines. As she gave me a tour of Shenandoah’s wonderful Carnegie library, she spoke of how interesting it is to be closer to rural Iowa and see harvest in action. “I always knew about harvest, of course, but seeing it up close is fascinating and gives me a whole new perspective,” she said.

The sights, sounds and aromas of harvest are truly a feast for the senses. The steady pace of a combine harvesting golden-brown soybeans as the reel spins round and round can look almost majestic against the backdrop of a deep cerulean sky.

When it’s time for dinner, the aroma of a hearty bowl of homemade vegetable beef stew and fresh-baked bread served in the field would tempt anyone, not just a hungry harvest crew, to stop for a bit and savor some comfort food.

And through it all, the hum of harvest plays on, from combines bringing in the crop to tractors and wagons hauling grain down the road to the elevator. In a strange way, this hum reminds me of a comment a yoga instructor made during a class I took about five years ago in Lake City. (Yes, yoga is harder than I realized, and no, I wasn’t very good at it.)

Yoga practitioners sometimes mention the om. My teacher spoke of the om as an ever-present part of life. I did a little research online and read that the om is frequently called the pranava, literally “humming,” a word that derives from pranu, “to reverberate.”

A Tibetan scholar named Lama Govinda wrote that om expresses and leads to the “experience of the infinite within us,” a way to connect with the divine. Some sources described the om is the meditative seed, par excellence. To me, it’s that feeling of mindfulness that’s easier to access when you’re a farmer making round after round in the field, all alone in the cab.

From what I read, the om is a vibration that slowly dissolves into silence, “steadfast, immovable, enduring.” While I’m no expert in these things, I know that as the hum of harvest fades away for another year, the determined spirit of the people here in farm country continues, and their love of the land remains steadfast, immovable, enduring.

Darcy Dougherty-Maulsby (a.k.a) Yetter-girl grew up on a Century Farm between Lake City and Yetter and is proud to call Calhoun County home.

Contact her at yettergirl@yahoo.com and visit her online at www.darcymaulsby.com.

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