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The Last Day of Wheat Harvest

| 7/14/2014 10:31:00 AM

Karrie SteelyThe sun is going down after a long day that isn’t over yet. I watched it come up on the other side of the horizon this morning, so long ago. Then, it was cool and quiet, other than the birds waking up and calling out. The morning light was slanted and golden and fresh. Now, 14 hours later, it’s dusty and brassy and slanted in the other direction. The world is hot and thick with buzzing insects.

Loading Harvested Wheat

We’ve been cutting the hundred-acre wheat field on the old farmstead property today, the last of many long days. While he drove the combine, I parked the pickup in the shade and worked on my laptop, and hunted for wild currants that grow thick around the edges of the fields. The black-blue berries are full of juice, and taste like sweet purple concord grapes. It took me a few hours to hand-pick a few gallons, one berry at a time. There were cattle lowing in the next field over, and a couple of horses, nose to butt, standing in the corner of a pasture sleeping and swishing flies off of each other’s faces. I ate my fill of currants and carried the rest out to put them in the shady pickup, out of the blasting sun.


When the grain truck was full of wheat, I took over the combine while he hauled the load to the elevator in town. I’ve driven some heavy machinery, but the combine was new to me; it’s big and mechanically complex. I learned that there’s a lot of finesse and reading of the wheat involved. This spring we were in drought, so most of the wheat stalks were short, and the sickle and head had to be lowered way down to cut them. But there were a lot of patches of taller, thicker wheat in the terraces where the ground retained moisture better, so the head and sickle had to be raised to avoid getting too much wheat pushed through the feeder at once. There are tons of spinning wheels and gears and belts and chains. Once the wheat heads are pulled in, they’re thrashed and separated inside and moved to a bin through an auger, and the stalks and chaff are spit out the back and spread. Then, when the bin is full of wheat berries, it has to be dumped into the grain truck, which can take six bin loads or so.

At meal times, we were invited to a neighboring farm house. The women prepared ham sandwiches, potato salad, radishes, carrot sticks and lemon merengue pie for lunch. Dinner was fried chicken, mashed potatoes, watermelon, iced tea, with coconut cream pie for dessert. It was truly amazing. I felt sort of awkward having them cook for me, being on the men’s side of things. I felt compelled to help with the dishes, but we had to rush off and keep cutting.

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