Country Moon


UP UP AND AWAY

Country MoonPatience is a virtue, so they say. No one can accuse us of not having that trait as Ron’s long-awaited hot air balloon ride finally came to fruition.

Over three years ago, he told me that one of the things on his bucket list was a balloon ride. I didn’t forget. The hard part was finding someone who would fly him over his farm instead of over Indianapolis. Mark and Alora Westra, owners of Stars and Heights Hot Air Balloon Rides, made the dream come true.

They were willing to come up to Economy, IN and fly him over his farm. The hard part was waiting for all the conditions to be right. Ron wanted to fly in the fall, after harvest and all the crops were off the fields. Having some place safe to land, with regard to not ruining crops and also being a safe distance from power lines and roads, is a major concern.

On top of that is wind direction. An open space large enough to lay the balloon out and take-off is needed, also in regard to wind direction on the day of flight. We scouted for such places and, as luck would have it, on Thursday, November 8, 2018, the conditions were right and the journey began. He could lift-off directly to the east of his grain bins.

Ideal wind conditions are winds between 4 and 6 MPH at ground level and not more than 10. I was amazed when they drove up that the balloon, which was packed into a bag, the basket and burner were all tucked into the bed of a pickup.

After unloading and stretching the balloon out on the ground, heated air was forced into the balloon to start it inflating. These balloon envelopes, as they are referred to, are so much bigger than they look at a distance. To lift an adult man, the envelope has to have a 13-foot radius and air has to be heated to 120*. A deflated balloon, the basket and 30 to 40 gallons of fuel weigh about 800 pounds. In the air, this same package, along with a pilot, will weigh 2-1/2 tons. Wow! No wonder weight is also a major factor.

Once the balloon was inflated and the tethers were removed, it didn’t take any time at all for the balloon to lift-off and start gliding west over the farm. With Ron being located right on US Hwy 35, the whole event attracted a entourage of curious onlookers as well as the friends who turned out. We followed his ride behind Alora and the rest of the chase crew for over an hour and roughly 15 miles.

I had heard that landings could be rough and, on this note, Ron only had two instructions before they went up. Mark told him to have fun but keep his arms and himself inside the basket until they told him to get out. It seems that in the past, as soon as they touched down, passengers would dismount which made the basket too light and it would start to ascend again!

They chose a cornfield in which to land and it really wasn’t too bad. As soon as the basket touched down, the crew ran to secure it as it rolled on its side. The balloon envelope gently laid down in the field and then it was folded into a long ribbon and tucked back into the bag. From start to finish, it was about a three-hour ordeal.

After everything was packed up, Mark and Alora did their traditional ceremony that they perform for all their rides. Ron got a flight certificate proclaiming him an “official aeronaut” and a commemorative pin. Then we all celebrated a successful flight with a champagne toast.

 Although we had been hoping to get this flight in for over three years, we are grateful to Mark and Alora for having the diligence to make sure that all conditions are right for not only a memorable ride but also a safe one. Mark says, “This happens all the time, people book a flight and sometimes it takes this long or longer to make sure it is the right time.”

They also took the time to make sure that everyone was comfortable before the flight. After all, it isn’t every day that one takes a balloon ride!

Even though this was a great experience that will be remembered for a lifetime, there is something else about the Westra’s that impressed me as much as the ride itself. Bailey Hunsberger was born with severe heart defects and was a patient off and on throughout her life at Riley’s Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, IN. She also was a member of their balloon team and loved to come out to crew every chance she got.

Mark and Alora have supported Riley hospital in a big way through the years and continue to do so. For eleven years they did the Riley Balloonathon fundraiser as part of the Indy Air Show. During that time, as a group, they raised over $200,000 for Riley. After the air show was cancelled, they continued the Riley Balloonathon at their place for two years with all food, tent, prizes and lodging proceeds going to Riley. Over the years they have sold many “Riley rides” where folks will purchase a balloon ride and 100% of the proceeds are donated to Riley. They continue to support the hospital by making their equipment and crew available to any parent who has lost a child or any child who is healthy enough to take a balloon ride. How incredible is this!

The cause is great and so is the ballooning experience. Through this I have learned a few other fascinating tidbits about hot air balloons…

  1. Though about 1200 feet sounds pretty high for Ron’s flight, the world record for the height of a hot air balloon is 68,900 feet. The longest flight was from Japan to Canada and was also the fastest at 245 MPH.
  2. The pilot must know the wind direction at different altitudes because his only ability to “steer” the balloon is to raise or lower it into winds going different directions.
  3. Hot air balloons are the oldest form of human flight. A rooster, a duck and a sheep were the first balloon passengers. The sheep was the closest to a human and the duck and rooster, who were flying creatures themselves, were taken to test the effects of the flight. The first humans went for a 20-minute ride on November 21, 1783.
  4. Flights are not possible in rain because the heat from the burner causes the rain to boil and destroys the fabric of the balloon, not a good idea!
  5. Both the North and the South used balloons during the Civil War to spy on the other side, but this practice went by the wayside as balloons made easy targets, also not a good idea!
  6. The tradition of having champagne after a balloon flight started in France as a way to make amends with angry farmers whose crops were destroyed when rich people’s balloons landed in their fields.
  7. The world’s largest hot air balloon festival happens for 9 days every October in Albuquerque, NM, with an average of 750 balloons dotting the blue skies.
  8. Battle Creek, MI hosted the 5th World Hot Air Balloon Championship in 1981 with pilots from 23 countries and 195 balloons. This eventually led to the establishment of the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival in 2003.

There is no gentler and quieter way to experience God’s world from a different perspective than in a hot air balloon. Ron described it best when he referred to the experience as a “quiet beauty.” How could it get much better than that!

PERSIMMON SEASON

Country MoonDown here in central Indiana, folks get excited this time of year about a little-known fruit. Persimmons are little fruits with big hearts. Not widely known to many, they can be a sweet treat to your list of fall favorites.

This soft, edible fruit has a taste all its own and they are often referred to as “divine fruit.” Scientifically, they are classified as a berry although most people think of them as a fruit. Whichever way you classify them, they have one quality that sets them apart from all other fruits.

Not having these little gems in Michigan, I was introduced to this special feature of persimmons in a unique way. We were checking out Ron’s persimmon tree a couple years ago in early fall before the fruit was ripe. He plucked one off the limb and was shining it up on his jacket, much as you would do an apple. Instinctively, I grabbed it and bit into it, eager to try it for the first time. That was a mistake. My mouth instantly drew up into a pucker worse than any dill pickle had ever affected me.

All persimmons have soluble tannins which accounts for their bitter taste which makes your mouth draw into a pucker. This is only while they are still green. When fully ripe, their high glucose content gives them a sweet and delicate flavor. To reach this stage, the small orange fruits must go through several frosts and freezings, even to the point where their flesh starts to turn black and they are soft when squeezed.

There are two varieties of persimmons, Hachiya is the more astringent type while the Fuyu is not so much. They both mature late in the fall and the season for harvesting them can go from September to December, depending on the weather. They can be picked before they are completely ripe and left on the counter to fully ripen or they can be placed in a paper bag with apples, pears or other fruit that release ethylene gas to speed up the ripening process.

Persimmons are rich in fiber, manganese, beta carotene, vitamin C and iron. They have been grown in China for more than 2000 years. They can be eaten raw, dehydrated  or cooked and are good in salads, on breakfast cereal, in parfaits and in desserts. Down here in Indiana, it is a delicacy to have persimmon pudding.

I experienced my first batch of this autumn treat this past week. Let me say, it is only for the industrious. Getting to the pudding is no small feat.

Picking the persimmons is a little tricky. Not only do they have to be ripe or nearly ripe, but there is a small window between when they are ripe and when the deer and other critters also like to scarf them up. Trees can get fairly tall so, to harvest most of them, you need some kind of equipment that will get you to the upper branches.

When they are ripe, they need to be washed and the stems and tails removed. The tails are little tiny protrusions on the bottom that don’t necessarily want to release. After this, they need to be run through a colander or sieve to separate the pulp from the pits and skins. Needless to say, this quickly becomes a gooey, sticky situation.

According to folklore in the Old Farmer’s Almanac, persimmon seeds can be indicators of winter weather. If you crack open a seed and the kernel inside is spoon-shaped it means lots of snow to shovel, if it is shaped like a fork it will be a mild winter with powdery, light snow and if it is knife-shaped there will be frigid winds that will “cut like a knife.” Of course, you will want to use a locally-grown persimmon so that it forecasts local weather.

As for the pudding, after you have the pulp, it is pretty easy to make. The hardest part is waiting for it to bake. When done, it has the consistency of pumpkin pie filling but needs to take at least an hour and maybe more to make sure it is done.

It is definitely worth the wait. Persimmon pudding, topped with real whipped cream, is a fall treat that ranks right up there with my other fall favorites. With a distinct flavor all its own, it is a welcome addition to other harvest favorites. Persimmons offer twice the pleasure, the fun of gathering and preparing and then the delight when eaten. Here is Ron’s recipe, handed down through his family. If you are in persimmon country, you may want to give it a try.

Persimmon Pudding Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 qt persimmons = 2 cups
  • 3 eggs
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2-1/2 cups rich milk ( whole milk with the cream at the top or use evaporated milk)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 cup raisins or nuts, optional

Instructions:

  1. Mix sugar and butter then add eggs and mix well
  2. Add milk and seasonings
  3. Add persimmons
  4. Add flour, baking powder and soda
  5. Pour into a 9 x 9 inch greased (or use cooking spray) baking dish
  6. Bake in a 325 degrees Fahrenheit oven for 1 hour or until it is firm

 


Photos courtesy of Lois Hoffman

OUR COUSIN GLADYSES AND AUNT BETTYS

Country MoonThere are always certain people who leave marks on our lives, some more profoundly than others. These special people shape our lives in ways that we never imagined.

Many times, at this time of year when we reflect on everything and everyone that we are thankful for, naturally the first people that come to mind are our immediate family and close friends whom we interact with most every day. But, this year two very special ladies come to mind who influence every day of my life. Ironically, one is from Jim’s family and one is from Ron’s. Then there is my Aunt Sharlene whom I’ll talk about later because she truly is in a category all her own.

Jim’s “cousin” Gladys came into my life quite unexpectedly one year. When we went back to Pennsylvania one time, he said he wanted to stop and see his cousin Gladys who really wasn’t his cousin. Huh? As it turns out, she was really his second, or third cousin, sort of. We never really did sort it all out. What I do know is that she was a delightful lady in her 80’s at that time who, over the next few years, changed my world.

She still lived alone in the same farmhouse where she had lived with her husband and raised a family. She loved pizza and pop and told it like it was. She always greeted us with a big smile and a hug and never complained about her woes although she dealt with several health issues. She loved showing us pictures of her family and always proudly pointed out that, even though some of her kids went through divorces and changed husbands or wives, she didn’t change her walls. They proudly displayed pictures of the “kids, in-laws and outlaws” as she referred to the ex’s.

 Fiercely independent, she taught me that you can do anything if you have a strong enough will. Through the years I knew her, she demonstrated this over and over. When she broke her shoulder, she had trouble dressing but refused any help. One day I got the courage up and asked how she ever put her bra on. “I fasten it, lay it on the floor and then step into it and pull it up!”

But her greatest strength was her faith. It never waivered. Although she had gone through rough spots in her life, you never would have known because she always saw the good in people and the bright spots. She always said that is what God wanted her to do.

Nowhere did she demonstrate this more eloquently than when she had to relent and go into an assisted living facility. Though she had to rely on a wheelchair to get around and had eye issues, we were always hard-pressed to find her in her room when we went to visit. She was always in the halls or in other patients’ rooms helping them. Whether it was physically helping them to do something, or lifting their spirits, she was there. Some had a hard time coping with leaving their homes so she was always helping them to understand that “things could be worse, you always look on the bright side.”

This is what she instilled in me; no matter how bad your situation is, there is always someone who is worse off and if you trust in God, He will get you through. Much of my strong faith today, the faith that has gotten me through so many tough times, I owe to Gladys. Thank you.

Cousin Gladys

Since I have known Ron, I have gotten to know his “Aunt Betty.” Here again, she is not really his aunt, but rather, a cousin down the line somewhere. We still haven’t figured this one out yet either.

Ron and her have always had a special relationship, so much so that when I came into the picture, she was downright jealous telling him, “I thought I was your girlfriend!”

But, as is her nature, she has since welcomed me with open arms and also taught me how to truly love life. As it turns out, we are carved out of the same mold. She has been an accomplished photographer, painter, loves rocks and has done some very creative crafts. She finds joy in everything she does.

She, like Gladys, has succumbed to leaving her home and is in an assisted living facility. Every time we visit, she always tells us how she wants to go home but she also tells us how many nice people she has met there. That is her special gift. It doesn’t matter what is going on, how bad her hip hurts her or how ugly the day is, she always sees the sunshine and the good. With the cold weather and the hard frosts, all the flowers are gone, but she points out how she saved one from Jack Frost’s sting by bringing it inside. It sits in a glass of water on her table. This is her. As a dear friend Susie put it when talking about Betty, “What’s not to love!”

Every day that I find it hard to start the day, I think of Aunt Betty and how she treasures life and all those in it, in spite of her situation. It keeps me going.

Betty

Aunt Betty

I had an Aunt Maxine (yes, she was my real aunt) that loved life. She drove too fast, smoked too much and drank a beer at precisely 4:00 every afternoon. There was never a day that she didn’t cram as much into every minute that she could. From the short time that I knew her, she also taught me to step out of my safe place and to truly experience life.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have my Aunt Sharlene, my “second Mom” who has taught me how to walk through life with kindness and love instead of hostility and negativity. She is a true woman of God who has literally shown me how treating people with love and kindness can conquer all. In everything she finds true joy. She is always there for me...period. There is no other blessing that that is so treasured. 

Aunt Sharlene

The greatest compliment that I could ever receive and the greatest accomplishment I could ever have is for someone to say that I am like my Aunt Sharlene.

I like to think that who I am is a unique combination of these four ladies. So, during this season of thankfulness and time of reflection, of all the things that I have for which to be thankful, I think the lessons that these women have given me are the most special. I do love life and all it has to offer. I am thankful for all those family and friends who bless me each day.

Sometimes we forget the quiet people in our lives who influence us in such profound ways. This Thanksgiving when asked what I am thankful for, I will definitely give thanks for Aunt Sharlene and my “Cousin Gladyses and Aunt Bettys!”


Photos Property of Lois Hoffman

YOOPERLITES ARE GLOWING DISCOVERY

Country MoonAll rock hounds--take notice--there is a new kid on the block. Just last year a man in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula “discovered” what he named "Yooperlites."

Here’s the scoop: Erik Rintamaki has been a rock hound all of his life. He works the night shift at a casino and would often frequent beaches in the area after his shift. He was searching for rocks last summer when he found glowing rocks among the pebbles on a Lake Superior beach.

Michigan State University wanted to study them, so they, along with the University of Saskatchewan, researched them for months before Michigan State identified them as syenite clasts containing fluorescent sodalite. Fluorescent sodalite is known as hackmanite and has tenebrescence properties which simply means it has the ability to change color under various conditions. When viewed under ultraviolet light, it seems to glow, usually an orange or orange-red color. When the ultraviolet is removed, it fades back to its original color and vice versa. This works much in the same way as photochromic eyeglasses which darken when exposed to sunlight and lighten indoors.

Testing completed at Michigan Technological University confirmed that yooperlites contained sodium, alumina, silicon, chlorine and oxygen but not structural sulfur. Kevin Cole, professor of geology at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI, accredits the fluorescent properties of these rocks to these ingredients.

Yooperlites have likely been in Michigan for centuries, left behind by the glaciers and rounded by the wave action of Lake Superior. So, technically, he did not discover them but he was the first person to get these rocks verified and has been credited with discovering this particular variation in Michigan which includes a Hackmanite-like fluorescent quality. The discovery was made public in May of 2018.

As with any new discovery, it peeks the interest of adventurers, especially rock hounds. Eric now gives yooperlite tours along the shores of Lake Superior in Luce and Chippewa counties and near Brimley. However, most of the specimens are found between Whitefish Point and Grand Marais on the Keewenaw Peninsula.

This is just the newest area found to harbor hackmanite. Usually in any area where you find agates, there is also a strong possibility that hackmanite, or yooperlites, will also be present. They have also turned up in gravel pits in Minnesota, on Lake Michigan near the Chicago area and near the Point Betsie area near Frankfort, Michigan.

The tour groups go out at night and search for the rocks with UV lights and usually the “hunters” are successful. The largest one found to date weighs in about 5 pounds.

Few rules apply when searching for Yooperlites but always check local rules and restrictions. One that is often overlooked is remembering not to ever take anything from a national or state park. Many rock hounds are unaware of the little-known law in Michigan that it is illegal to take more than 25 pounds of rocks or minerals per year from any state park, recreation land or Great Lakes bottomlands. This is to ensure that all may share in some of Michigan’s resources.

Many folks flock to Whitefish Point in search of agates. It is illegal to search for rocks at Whitefish Point after dusk, the beaches are only open during twilight hours.

In light of this, it is still a good idea to get to the beaches where rock hunting is legal after nightfall while you still have some daylight so you can familiarize yourself with your surroundings. Be sure to have water, extra batteries and a place to stash your treasures once you find them.

You also need two lights, a white flashlight to scout the beach, and an ultraviolet light with which to illuminate the yooperlites. As with anything else, you can be as extravagant as you want. A $25 UV light will start you off just fine. Having a couple glow sticks are also helpful. Once you start walking the beach at night, it is sometimes hard to remember where you parked. Placing a glow stick where you walked down to the beach and a couple along the path you walk will help you find your way back.

From twilight through the night is the best time to find yooperlites. Go slow and don’t shine the light at right angles to the beach. Angling the light illuminates them better and don’t forget to retrace your steps as the light will illuminate the beach at a different angle. When you see a bright orange flash you know that you have found one.

Spring and fall are the best times to look. In spring everything gets “flipped” after the ice from the lake pushes everything around. It becomes a whole new area. Fall is also a good time because the winds of November also bring fresh rocks to shore. These two seasons also have less bugs and less tourists!

Although yooperlites are not new, they are a new discovery in the area. I like to look for the smooth gray and black rocks that the area offers up. They are great to paint and use in crafts. You can search for these, agates during the day, and yooperlites at night in this area. What could be better for rockhounds!

 Yooperlite

The Un-Harvest

Country MoonHarvest is one of my favorite times of year. Farmers and gardeners wait all year long to reap the fruits of their labors.

Some years are better than others and no two are ever quite the same. This has been one of those more challenging years.

Farmers depend on rain but they hardly ever get just enough. It's a toss-up, which is worse, not enough or too much.

This year it has been too much, right from the get-go. We have been through years like this before but I can never remember when it has been so widespread.

I remember when there used to be a drought or too much rain in certain parts of the country, which means that it didn't affect prices and total yields so much. However, this year in the Midwest, the East and parts of the South and West have all experienced too much rain.

Farmers play a guessing game when they place their seed orders, which is sometimes a year in advance. They try to choose a variety that fits their soil type and the length of their growing season. Different varieties have different maturity dates but those too depend on moisture and warmth.

harvesting

This year there was a lot of rain in the spring so some crops didn't get in when they should have. Then, after the seeds were in the ground it was dry so the seeds laid there dormant.

Eventually, the rains came and the crops got the moisture they needed through the season to grow. It was looking to be a good year. In some fields the beans even got enough moisture to put on extra growth, which means more seed pods, which means more yield, which means more profit.

The only catch to this is being able to get the crops out of the field. In some parts of the country there has been sufficient sunshine and warmth to ripen the seed but the ground is still wet.

Getting the machinery in to harvest the crops is a real challenge. Deep ruts mar fields where machinery has gotten mired down and stuck. Besides being an aggravation, it makes more work. Instead of filling four wagons and pulling them to unload, only two can be pulled at one time, sometimes just one.

Machinery becomes so caked with mud that time has to be taken to clean it. Deep ruts in fields will have to be dealt with which means that fields that were intended for no-till will have to be tilled. This requires more time, fuel and expense.

It is always better if the grain can dry in the field with Mother Nature doing the work. Gas dryers are expensive to operate but a necessity to prevent the grain from spoiling.

In scenarios like this year, farmers have to get when the getting is good. This means maybe an hour or two harvesting each day instead of just getting in the fields and getting it done.

I remember many years when I was growing up on the farm, Dad would be picking ear corn in January or later because that is the first time that the ground would be frozen hard enough for him to get on it. There is no other feeling like the one when your hands and feet are so frozen while unloading the frozen corn, all the while having the fierce wind blowing in your face.

All of these factors affect prices. It comes back to the old rule of supply and demand, how much is making it to market at any certain time. This is not even to mention the role that politics play in the grain market.

So, where am I going with all of this? I cannot count the times that I have heard comments such as "so much rain this year, farmers ought to be happy," or "produce prices should be way down with all the rain that we have had this year," etc. What many people do not realize is that more is not always better.

I am not putting anyone down, it is no one's fault how they are raised. Unless you were raised a farmer, married a farmer or have been around the farming community, you do not understand all the trials they go through.

Sometimes it is even hard for us that are with farmers to understand how tough it is for them to have no control over getting their crops out of the field. After all, this is their once-a-year payday so sitting around and waiting until the conditions are right to harvest has to be so frustrating. And yes, frustration does lead to grumpy sometimes.

There is no such thing as a perfect harvest, although some years come closer than others. So, at night when all is quiet, when I hear the sound of the big fan drying the grain in the bins, I have mixed feelings.

Part of it is comforting to know that at least part of another year's harvest is "in the bag." But it also means that part of it is still waiting to be brought in and dried down.

The excitement, the expectation, the worry, the discontent... this is harvest season.


Image courtesy of Lois Hoffman.

Husk On

Country MoonOver three inches of rain fell. There was mud everywhere. Horses and wagons tromped through deep gullies as did tractors and people.

As the day wore on, it only got muddier. Still they came, young and old... to husk.

This was my third year of attending the Indiana State Corn Husking Contest. I met a lot of nice people, it was fun and I was helping to preserve a bit of history. Did I also mention that it feeds the competitive side of me?

So, I came back last year and again this year. Yep, I am hooked.

It all started in the early 1900s when families and neighbors would gather to harvest corn by hand. Even though it was hard work, it was fun and brought folks together.

Soon local competitions blossomed to see who the best husker was. From there it grew to state and national competitions. Tens of thousands would come to witness these contests and the winners were as well-known as today's major athletes.

The National Husking Competition peeked in 1940 with an estimated 160,000 spectators. However, with the onset of WWII, all competitions halted due to the war effort. After that, modern combines replaced hand husking since a machine could harvest 100 bushels of corn in five minutes and it would take a farmer 9 hours to do the same by hand.

Indiana has had a state contest since 1926 and only eight other states hold state competitions:Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota. The national contest is rotated between these states.

husk3

Essentially, how the contest works is a field of corn is divided into lands and competitors choose the lands and rows they want to shuck. When it is their turn, they have so many minutes to see how many pounds of corn they can husk and toss into a horse-drawn wagon that is pulled alongside them.

A "judge" and a "gleaner" both follow each contestant. The judge times the competitor and the gleaner carries a bag and picks up all corn that the contestant misses and any that is laying on the ground.

After each husker is finished, his or her corn is weighed. Then a 20-pound random sampling is taken. Husks that are attached to the ears in this sample are removed and weighed.

husking1

One ounce of husks is allowed with no deduction. After that, 1 percent of the gross weight is deducted for each 1/4 ounce of husks up to 2 ounces and for any amount over 2 ounces, 3 percent of the gross weight is deducted for each 1/4 ounce. On top of that, 3 pounds of corn is deducted for every pound of gleanings. This competition is pretty serious business!

It also has no age barriers and young and old alike turn out to try their hand at husking. The reasons that they come year after year, and especially this year to brave the mud, are varied.

Larry Fervida has been husking since 2002 and won last year in the "Golden Agers" class, which is for men and women 75 years old or older. It's just part of his life.

On the end of the spectrum, 13-year-old Gage Richard has been to Nationals twice and has been husking in the state competition for four years and his friend Marshall Finke has been husking for three years. They both were pretty much "born" into the event.

husking2

Marshall's grandfather Jerry Calloway brings a team of draft horses to the event every year. His horses, Bob and Tom, are as seasoned at this event as the huskers.

"Lots of people come to see the horses," Jerry adds. "It reminds them of the old days."

Sophia and Melanie Gebhart came back this year with their grandfather Robert Hamilton. I had met Robert two years ago when he told me about his own story. He and his family grow and mill their own specialty corn meal.

Seasoned huskers like Rolland Miller and Atlee Lambright love the thrill of competition and being around other farmers. Rolland took third in seniors class last year at Nationals and Atlee was second at Nationals in 2015 and won the state open class.

Other contestants' stories touched my heart. Janice Hurford was the first husker of the day. With a tear in her eye she told me, "My dad won the state contest years ago and since then this has been on my bucket list. It was just time."

Dave Shafer has been coming since 2002 because "you meet lots of great people who end up as friends even though you only see them once a year. I always have a great time."

Charlotte Triplet, who at three years old, was the youngest supporter here this year. Yes, she was a bit too young to husk, but her dad Zach Triplet is the vice-president of the corn husking association and her mother Emily Porman is the secretary.

This year Clint Watts, Ag teacher and FFA advisor for LaVille, IN, brought 15 kids to help glean, time and shovel corn from the wagons. It was a win/win situation as it was a great learning experience for them.

And then, for some like Clay and myself, we remember husking as a chore turned into a passion. Whatever the reasons for coming, the competition is real. The reasons of keeping the old farming ways alive and preserving our heritage are pretty simple ideals for the corn husking association but, as Clay will tell you, there is so much that goes on all year long to make this event happen.

It's about so much more than husking. It's about remembering the old ways, making friends and enjoying a wholesome day with other farmers.


All photos belong to the author of this post.

Happy, Happy, Happy Halloween

Country MoonHalloween is my happy, happy, happy holiday. There are no emotional ties associated with it, it comes at a beautiful time of year when the air is cool and crisp and usually coincides perfectly with harvest.

Perhaps this is why I enjoy the holiday so much, it is a time to get out and have fun with no strings attached. Very rarely do we have this opportunity.

Halloween originated from All Hallows Eve, meaning hallowed evening. Folks would dress up as saints and go door-to-door, thus the forebearers of the modern trick-or-treaters.

Whether you are a fan of the holiday or not, Halloween has become the second largest commercial holiday in the United States, only surpassed by Christmas. This said, it is rather hard to escape Halloween since decorations representing the holiday adorn most all porches, storefronts and yards.

Still, some people refuse to join in the fun because they believe the holiday has its roots in paganism and is evil. Believe it or not, Samhainophobia is the fear of Halloween and originates from the Samhain custom of celebrating summer's end. This probably isn't as strange as festivalisophobia, which is the fear of the whole Christmas thing!

This season is just too vibrant and fun not to enjoy it, even if you are not a big spook fan. There are still so many fun, family-oriented things to help us get outside and enjoy before winter makes many of us shut-ins.

Consider taking in some of these activities:

  • If you are into festivals, the fall season offers a host of them all across the country. In many parts of the country where apples are raised, apple festivals abound. These are good places to pick up some of the fruit for winter, to load up on cider and doughnuts and to check out local crafts and seasonal food.
  • If you are not into festivals and crowds, many apple orchards offer their own activities. In many cases you can pick your own apples and then participate in hayrides, corn mazes and scavenger hunts. Many orchards produce their own cider and invite the public to watch this process, along with samples. Besides just offering apples and apple products, many orchards have farmers' markets, which offer all sorts of fall produce such as winter squash, pumpkins, gourds, potatoes and onions.
  • What a fun season it is to decorate, even if you opt not to do the Halloween thing. Scarecows are always fun to fashion. A few years ago, my grandsons and I had so much fun "stuffing" old bib overalls with straw, adding an old shirt and pumpkin heads. Our "creations" sat on our outside bench way into winter and then we kindly put them out of the weather so they could grace our spring gardens and go to work scaring critters out of our domain. Thrift store finds are great for these kinds of things. Decorating with pumpkins and fall leaves makes any place look festive.
  • Bonfires can please both the Halloween enthusiast and those that are not so keen on the holiday. The bugs of summer are gone (hopefully), the nights are cooler and crisp and a bonfire is a perfect way to casually catch up with family and friends. Some of the best ones that we have had are the last-minute throw-togethers. I'll put a pot of chili and sloppy Joes on the stove, baked beans in the oven and let the rest come together with everyone bringing a passing dish. There is nothing quite like the smoke from a fire, laughter and tall tales from friends and good food. It just doesn't get any better.
  • Autumn brings color to just about any part of the country that you are from, to some degree. Even though each season has its own beauty, fall offers brilliant colors that the others can't match. It's a perfect time to go for a drive, especially if it is in no specific direction. Take some of those backroads, you may find some pleasant surprises along the way.
  • Take a walk. It's a great time to make use of national, state and local parks. Not only the color, but also the scents of the season will lift your spirits. There is no other scent like the earthy smell of autumn, leaves strewn across your path. On your journey, be on the lookout for pinecones, acorns and even the leaves themselves. They all can be used in wreaths and other DIY fall decorations.

I love all of these things. For me, fall can't last long enough. Perhaps that is why it is such a short season; too much of a good thing makes us enjoy it less.

It seems that everyone is in a little better spirits also. A good harvest, for both farmers and gardeners, is enough to lighten any mood. Just like our forefathers, a good bounty in fall makes for a good winter.

The old saying that "I want it all," well, that is me. I enjoy the harvest and I enjoy Halloween. One year I was the prisoner, clad in jailhouse stripes and ball and chain, while Wyatt was the sheriff.

I do enjoy being scared out of my wits in haunted houses; I know it's not real but I still scream. So, for the next few weeks, it is truly happy time, there is the rest of the year to be responsible and to be serious. Go have some frightfully good fun!

halloween
Photo by Getty Images/AlexRaths.







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