harvest things

I got a little ahead of myself last time when I thought my harvesting days were over. But, now I think it is officially official. I thought it appropriate to share some funny things I’ve learned and a few snapshots I was able to take when I wasn’t busy operating heavy machinery.

1. Desperate times may call for desperate measures …. and corn shucks can come in very handy.

2. Interpreting sign language wasn’t part of the job description, but it was very important to understand the hand signals coming from the combine when I was without a radio.
– Hands shoulder width apart, palms facing down (some might interpret this slow down) meant stay where you are (also sometimes accompanied by both hands spread outward in a “he’s safe!” kind of motion)
– Index finger point in the direction of the truck (semi) meant take the load back and switch tractors.
– One hand, palm facing inward motioning quickly meant follow me.
– Index finger pointed upwards in a circling motion meant turn around and follow me.
– The universal ‘one hand across the neck’ meant STOP whatever you are doing.

3. That little knob on the steering wheel is BRILLIANT! At first, I thought it was more like a tumor on a normal steering wheel, but I quickly realized how useful it was for sharp turns. Sometimes, when Eeyore was working on a long row, I would practice (slowly and carefully) backing up so I could be prepared if the need ever arose (and it did!).

4. Some little kids (boys) don’t believe it’s possible for a girl to drive a tractor and will say, “You’re a girl, you can’t drive a tractor,” while he is riding in my tractor. Some girl tractor drivers might get defensive.
5. I never really shook off the nerves of driving such important, big, and expensive equipment. Eeyore said that was alright.

6. One time, I was driving with Partner and it was one of the loooooong days. I guess there isn’t a pre-requisite for my loopy stages, but this was one of those times. I told Eeyore a joke on the radio… and he didn’t hear. I said it again… and he didn’t hear. I said it a third time and THEN realized I was talking into the wrong side of the radio. There are only two sides.

7. I didn’t really ever step foot in the combine (which I’m glad for because there were LOTS of buttons and computers and chances for me to screw something up!). But, Eeyore did enlist my help to oil the chains. Every once in a while we would stop and I’d climb up and sit in his seat (where my feet wouldn’t touch the ground) and I’d push the only three buttons I knew – so he could oil the combine chains.

8. I’ve got to be honest, I think it takes a special kind of person to farm. It’s you, your machine, and the field … ALL day long. As Eeyore would say, I “have the gift of gab” so the time spent harvesting these rolling hills has been a bit of a stretch. Farmers can only take so much “gab” and it’s important to be sensitive to the limit. I had my journal and studies with me, but I had a limit too. One time, at AWANA, I was running around chasing kids and some parents were kind of looking at me like, “where in the world did you get that energy?” and I just explained, “I’ve been trapped in a tractor all day long!”

9. I learned a bit about farming and tiling and terraces and yields. Mostly, I can throw around terms that make a lot of sense to some people, but I tried to store away useful information (just in case my contribution to a commune someday is as a farmer). For example, these days you will see only one ear on a stalk and they are engineered that way because it allows the plant to focus on producing one very healthy ear of corn instead of splitting it between two. This also means the stalks are closer together.

10. There is nothing like an Iowa sunset.

the key to a healthy farmer

I’m not sure, but I think today might have been my last official day farming… for Eeyore anyway.

It came on kind of like a surprise attack – the end of harvest, that is. I thought I’d be more than ready to move on to less farmer-ish things, but (as it turns out) it’s a good thing my tractor-ing abilities have attracted some attention. Another farmer ’round here said he might need some help. I guess that makes me an independent farming contractor, doesn’t it? Wonder if that’ll fit on my resume…

I will say it might be hard to transition to a new boss. I’m kind of partial to the one I have. That brings me to the subject of today’s post. It’s been awhile since I shared some wisdom from the field (and by that I mean literally from the cornfield in Iowa, if you haven’t been following my posts), but don’t think I’ve been twiddling my farmer thumbs. Nope, when I’m not writing about farming, I’m probably studying it (in the classroom-without-walls sort of way).

Lately, I’ve realized something. And it is REAL important if you want your farming operation to run smoothly. I mean REAL important in the same way that I need coffee in the morning (just ask Eeyore – it’s an absolute must).

Here it is – the key to a healthy farmer. Are you ready?

Well, first let’s assume the farmer has his machinery and fields and bins and whatnot in order. Let’s assume he’s a good farmer (because Eeyore is, of course). I didn’t say I was going to share the key to a good farmer (there are plenty of more qualified people who could tell you that). I said I’m going to tell you the key to a healthy farmer. I also don’t mean a healthy diet – farmers, I’ve learned, have coolers packed with all sorts of good things to nibble on during the day.

So, the key to a healthy farmer?

a good dose of UNfarmerly humor

I don’t mean knock-knock jokes and I don’t mean the blushing kind. I mean … skipping versus trudging and smiling versus frowning and yes, the occasional innocently unknowledgeable (some would say blonde) remark.

(Pardon me while I make my position as field hand a bit more irreplaceable)

From my observation, the farmer can grow quite somber at times. His furrowed brows can get accustomed to a serious study of things and his jaw can set in a “and that’s settled” sort of way. Not that a somber countenance is bad, but sometimes (a lot of times) it is healthy to have something to chuckle about (or someone).

Let me give you a scenario. I’ve got to preface it by saying I prefer the 3 person rhythm. I know, I might sound like a fieldhand snob, but I really like how the harvest rolled in when it was Partner, Eeyore and I making decisions and jokes and (every once in awhile) mistakes. I liked how the radio would crackle with familiar voices and that I could rock out to music in the cab when no one was looking. I love visitors, too, because I can draw on the weeks of knowledge I’ve tried to store in my brain and show off my mad tractor skills. I especially like kid visitors because I like being a kid myself, which actually brings me around to my scenario.

It was a day in the field that turned quite confusing for me. There was a lot of mumbling and grumbling and a somber shadow that hung unfortunately lower than the bright sunshine that I was trying to bask in from my front row seat in the cab. For the life of me, I could not figure out what everyone was so sad about. No one felt like mumbling and grumbling to me, so I had to take my best guess at where I should go and what I should do. Thankfully, I had a very lively tractor companion and we laughed. Oh! Did we laugh! I tried out a few funny accents while going on about his stinky feet and if he wasn’t belted in, he would’ve been rolling on the ground. We hopped out of the tractor and saw all the somber faces and I still didn’t understand one bit of it. I’m sure they were discussing something really serious and important.

The next morning, when Partner, Eeyore and I got our rhythm back, I realized I was tense … and quiet. Eeyore will forever blame it on a caffeine deficiency, but I think I just needed some time to readjust to the old rhythm. Eeyore kept coming over the radio, asking questions like, “How you doing over there, Caroline?” and “Are you awake?” and “None o’ them yawns, now.”

That’s when it all started to make sense (maybe that was after a Diet Coke was delivered). All those silly questions I ask and sorry attempts at humor and mistakes a seasoned professional would never make … those don’t fit inside the furrowed brow and set jaw countenance. And that is refreshing.

Sometimes farmers don’t want to talk about farming at all… and sometimes they want to talk about farming with someone who thinks every piece of information is new and interesting – like the first time you were introduced to silly putty or hot chocolate or the game of football. The first questions are always silly, and even the farmer can’t keep a straight face while explaining.

The farmer needs UNfarmerly things to talk about and laugh about and comment on. He needs someone that will take his mind off the weather, the price of corn, and decisions about upgrading his operation. Or, maybe, the farmer needs someone who will listen to all those things, try to say something smart, and then talk about something completely unrelated.

Because, at the end of the day, farming isn’t living… and we need people to remind us just what that is.

(do you think adding “comic relief” to my job description will get me a raise? Eeyore will see right through this as an attempt to flex my business prowess and make myself more valuable 🙂

Well, from the fields of Iowa, I’m trying to

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

the farmer comedian

I must preface this by saying I ran this post idea by Eeyore and all I got was a grunt… and then he said to Partner, “We’re pretty serious ’round here all the time.”

view from the tractor

So, I’ve got this theory (inspired by Eeyore’s wife actually) that farmers would make good comedians. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, they’ll surprise you with their wit and woefully dry humor. There is a catch, however. The conditions have to be just perfect. You can’t throw a farmer on a stage and expect him to be funny… no, you’ve got to have the perfect set-up and it goes something like this:

They will definitely need to be wired in by radio – farmers aren’t necessarily the most approachable comedians when it comes to appearance, but when you give ’em a radio they churn out the real charm. From the seat of a combine or tractor (the 20 ft. view, some say), the world makes sense. Things are divided into rows and bushels and pounds and yields, so the mind can wander into those clever little things that don’t make sense at all. From that little throne in the little glass cab, the world is his soybean (and those are pretty glamorous right now, aren’t they?).

It’s not just a radio you need (if you’re thinking you could secretly tap a farmer’s radio and air it during prime time to make a buck). No, you need time… like hours. You see, part of the farmer’s charm (Eeyore’s anyway) is that there’s no rush. When he climbs the steps to his throne in the morning, he knows he’ll be ruling all day long. So, he strings out his material… across about 8 hours. A joke here, a sarcastic remark there… it’s good for the same reason a birthday is good – you wait and anticipate and then celebrate because it doesn’t come around too often. If we’re talking rain (as all farmers do), then it’s more like a drip-drop then a flash flood.

There’s something else you must know. When the humor does come, you can expect a 3-5 exchange. That’s a little phrase I’ve coined to explain the back and forth on the walkie-talkie. When I’m filling up the air in my glass cab with belted choruses and ideas for inventions (has anyone ever thought to use the innermost part of the corn cob as styrofoam?)… Eeyore is preparing his next one-liner and it goes something like this (a recent conversation about our college rival):

Eeyore: See, now they’re startin’ the game early on Saturday, so’s them Hawkeyes can get to drinkin’ earlier.
Me: Really? You’re just being mean … Maybe I should go up there and teach the students something about healthy lifestyles…
Eeyore: Well, I don’t know that it’d make much difference.
Me: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
Eeyore: Well, with them I think it’s the other way ’round.

I’ll admit, it took me until I was driving home to make sense of this clever turn of phrase… and then I had the AHA face right there by myself in my car, “Oooooh! I get it!

You see how he did that? He lured me in with something interesting and a bit vague, drew out a comment or two, and then went in for the slam-BANG finish. Impressive, folks. That’s what that is. But, back to my point… it’s the 3-5 exchange and then silence. No explanation, no resolution, just silence. If I’m in eyeshot of Eeyore, I’ll see him slowly put the walkie-talkie back in its place and concentrate on the rows ahead. This is key. He’ll be funny again when he’s ready, but not before.

I still haven’t figured out how to make any money off this discovery. Eeyore is always bothering me to make money off my ideas, like this blog. He and Partner think they should be getting paid royalties because I’m using their stories. I said I didn’t use their real names. “E’rbody knows,” he says (I’ll just let him think that this blog has that kind of reach). I told him I don’t get any money from the blog.

He thinks I should get sponsors so that I’m getting paid for the time I put in (you know, a ROI). I told him money doesn’t make any sense to me and I don’t care much for it. He said I better find someone who cares a little.

One thing I do know, jokes aside, when that auger swings out over the empty rows of corn, I better be ready with that grain cart.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

rained out

Well, this morning started out soggy, but I had “high apple pie in the sky-y-y hopes” for harvesting… and then I got to the “far north side of the field by the cow field” and walked the muddy way to the tractor. A couple hours after I got there, we had to pack up and leave because the rain seemed so persistent.

So, I traded my cheese sandwich for grilled and my bottle of water for steaming coffee and my walkie talkie for a laptop and the firsthand farmer lingo for a secondhand re-telling. After my “10 things I learned in Iowa harvest” post spread around the family like fire, I realized if I target the Midwest audience, then my readership could explode! Not that I care about how many readers I have… it’s just funny to me that I can write a blog pretty regularly and the biggest response I get is from my comical/embarrassing experience with Iowa farmers.

I thought I better at least take one more shot at sharing my perspective on farming (since the rain is keeping me from the fields). I’ve learned a few more things since that post…

  • First, the farmer (Eeyore as we call him) is not so sure his identity is as concealed as I promised. Within hours of my post, he came over the radio, “What’s this Eeyore business?” and I responded, “I don’t know, you tell me. I didn’t put any names in there…” pause “Well, e’rbody’s figured it out then…” Sometimes, I just giggle because I don’t know what to say. So, just to make things clear – I have not given any names and the names that are given are changed to protect the innocent. That goes for “partner” too. If my descriptions match someone you know, it is only by coincidence.
  • Second, I drove with my cousin (the third grader who is qualified for my job) and I’ll be honest – I was nervous. I thought he’d get in there and push all the right buttons and drive circles around my anxious jerking. Well, turns out I can sleep a little better at night knowing that he’s not quite ready to take over.
  • Today, I am proud to announce I moved up in rank (of course I’ve made up ‘ranks’ so it feels like I’m getting promoted and if you’re about to question it, don’t – it was my birthday last week). That’s right. Today, I got to drive another tractor and it was different in every way. The transmission was a gear shifter, the buttons were all in different places. There was A – F and then 1-2-3-4 in each letter. The clutch is essential is this machine and oh! I forgot to mention that there is a very large obstruction in the form of loader arms right where I count the 5-6 rows out for on the go loading. I got a 5 minute tutorial from my partner and then off I went, picking up a load on the go. I haven’t told Eeyore, but I’ll expect a badge tomorrow.
  • So, partner and I cover a pretty wide variety of subjects between the tractor tutoring and the unloading. I’ve been storing advice on WAY more than tractors (he’s probably trying to forget the things I say). He’s also super encouraging, like when I learned the new tractor today he said, “Well, hey! You’re a natural,” even though I was obviously struggling. He said that people just assume girls can’t do things like drive a tractor, but he says he can teach anyone. I also know now that it’s harder to load corn on the truck on the road because it’s level and that dry corn unloads like water. I know that you can go 40 mph in a truck chasing deer in a field and I know the human body is capable of a 24 non-stop road trip (and much other anecdotal advice). I know that he doesn’t like my weird music and that a certain pair of jeans with holes will always be my “sunday jeans” (because they are hole-y). I have to share one conversation that (he would say) reveals a bit of the blonde farmer in me:
    “I hate it when people call me Carolyn. I mean my name is obviously Carol-ine so people should pronounce it that way.”
    “How is your name spelled?”
    “with an i-n-e”
    “C-a-r-r-o-l-l-ine?”
    (joking) “Yeah, C-a-a-r-r-o-o-l-l-i-n-n-e-e”
    (blank stare)
    “No, of course it’s C-a-r-o-l-i-n-e”
    “Well, that’s not how I would spell Carroll”
    “Oh, well that’s how I spell my name – C-a-r-o-l-i-n-e. How would you spell Carol?”
    “Well, my aunt’s name is Carroll and she spells her name C-a-r-r-o-l-l”
    “Well, that’s not how I spell my name!”
    “That’s not how my aunt Donna spells her name either”
    (long pause and puzzled look and then serious)
    “Well, that’s not even the same letters!”
    (laughter)
    “Hey!!! No blonde jokes!”
    and so go our conversations….
  • I wish I could record how the grumblings go over the walkie talkie. I’m working up to a real good impersonation and it’s kind of scaring me. I can’t decide if I’m copying what I hear or if it’s actually starting to be how I talk. I can carry on a good five minute conversation about yields and head rows and moisture and fields and weather. I surprise myself (and then I realize I don’t really know what I’m saying and so I’m not a complete farmer yet). Here are some funny things I’ve heard over the radio:
  1. “Well, it’s pretty rough in here… better unload there at th’ end.”
    Translation: You’re good, but you’re not that good. I’m not taking chances on your driving, but I want you to think the field is responsible.
  2. Me: “Sorry about that, I was SO close but SO far.”
    Eeyore: “Close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades.”
    Me: “I’m not good at those either.”
  3. Eeyore is waiting with auger out, ready to unload.
    Me: “We had to cut a tree…”
    Eeyore: “Cut it or pull it out at the roots?”
    Me: (Oh, crap) “Uh.. well, we cut it but pretty low down”
    Eeyore: “You gonna come back next year ‘n cut it again?”
    Me: “Well, that sounds like pretty good job security I guess.”
    Eeyore: “Sounds like a government job.”
    Me: “That’s why we’re broke.”
    Eeyore: “Yep.”
Well, I guess I might as well make an apple braid today. I’ve been wanting to try this recipe and today seems like the perfect opportunity to put some fresh Michigan apples to good use! And, yes. I will be cranking the Christmas music – I firmly believe there is NEVER a wrong time to sing “O come all ye faithful.”

What will you do to
let LOVE fly like cRaZy
today?

10 things learned working Iowa harvest

I could title this, “everything I need to know in life I learned in harvest,” but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

I’m still kind of a newbie in the fields (I’m hoping I can keep saying that until I gain more tractor confidence), but here are some things I’ve learned so far:

  1. knobs & levers – There are SO many knobs and levers inside a tractor these days! My mom always says that the minute I get into a new vehicle I have to pull everything at least once. Well, that was NOT an option. There were yellow knobs, warning knobs, green levers, buttons, and all sorts of graphics … it’s like a live version of a video game (and I’m not very good at those). Here’s my trick – find the knobs I can touch (radio, throttle, speed, lights, seat adjustment, steering wheel, walkie talkie) and then push and pull like I know exactly what I’m doing.
  2. lingo – Yep. There is most definitely farmer lingo and even farmer-specific wit/humor. This makes me nervous. I’m such a communicator that I start sweating if someone gives directions I don’t understand. “Swing round the south side ‘n come up ’round the bend ‘n I’ll unload.” The south side of where? which bend? are we unloading while moving or stopped?
  3. walkie-talkie – This is where the lingo happens.
    “Are you comin’ up over the hill?”
    “What’re ya tryin’a say? I’m old?”
    “Well, now that you mention it…”
    and then there was
    “Hey, did you finish up back there?”
    “Well, yeah there wasn’t much there…”
    “I just wanted to make sure you didn’t get lost”
    “I’m not that old, now… careful.”
  4. direction – There’s no way around it. When we’re talking north road, south fence, and aiming east, I can’t fake it. I used to call roads longways and sideways when I was little and that just doesn’t cut it in the fields.
  5. on the go – If I get to do this I am both excited and nervous. It means I drive alongside the combine as it unloads the corn into my grain cart. It means I’ve got to stay the right distance (about 5 to 6 corn rows) away from the combine and the right speed (about 3.8). That’s a LOT of pressure, but I always feel accomplished if I don’t mess it up. It sure helps when you have a gracious boss.
  6. there’s no bathroom – Well, you get the picture.
  7. yard lights – When it gets dark (like it did last night), my partner taught me to look around the horizon at the yard lights from the different homesteads to get oriented to where I was in the field. That was some handy advice right about 7:00 pm.
  8. food – Bring it because you might be out there for 8, 9, or 10 hours. That’s right. Getting into that tractor is a COMMITMENT and you better bring your stores like you are hibernating or you’ll have to call in reinforcement to bring you survival rations and water (Yes, I did have to do that).
  9. a fifth grader could do it – Yep. Every time I get excited about conquering another challenge out there in the field I remind myself that a fifth grader can do what I’m doing… and probably offer better jokes! 🙂
  10. Eeyore syndrome – I can never tell if it’s a good field or a bad field, good/bad yield, and good/bad weather, because the voice on the other end of the walkie talkie always sounds on the sad side.
    “So, are we getting a good yield in this field?”
    “Well, it’s alright. Sure is dry today… this stuff is just so dry.”
    and
    “Oh, we’ve only got that patch there left.”
    “No, there’s a whole other stretch ’round the back.”
    And, of course, this is with (almost exactly) the tone you would expect if Eeyore himself was giving you the information. I’ve learned the farmer is just cryptic by nature… and that I should try to take note of important things (like beans should hit right at %13 moisture and that a combine head for corn is much different than for beans) and then just give my best Tigger to bounce the spirits up a bit.
I’m going to go ahead and make an 11. the view – it’s amazing almost all the time. The blue sky… the clouds… the fields of crazy colors… the sun setting… all from the view of about 20 feet up.
So far, so good.
I guess even in the fields you can

let LOVE fly like cRaZy