October 24, 2008

Corn Harvest

Category: News — Ira @ 6:58 pm


“….the sun goes down in blood and pollen across
the bronzed and mown fields of old October.”

—Thomas Wolfe, “Of Time and the River”

It’s fall again. The leaves are turning late this year. The first frost just fell this week, they will be fading soon. And another season of harvest will soon be past.

Every year at this time I think back, to the days of autumn on the farm. It was the only world we knew. We couldn’t have imagined any other.

September nights began to chill down from the summer heat. The rolling fields of corn, row upon row of whispering green stalks, faded slowly to a greenish brown. Around the community then we heard the high dull whine of the silage choppers, set up beside the great concrete silos. Neighbors gathered and helped each other, teams and wagons plodding to the fields, returning laden with long heavy bundles of corn stalks, flowing over the sides and dragging on the ground. Up the wagons crept beside the silage chopper, a hungry machine with a wide cradled feeder chain and sharp wicked blades. Powered by a tractor and pulleys and a large flat belt.

The corn bundles were thrown into the ravenous chopper and shredded to bits and propelled up the long pipes into the silo until it was bulging to the brim. The air reeked with the wet pungent odor of fresh chopped corn stalks.

And every year Mom warned the children with terrifying tales of the awful things that could happen if one didn’t respect the chopper and got too close. The classic tale of the little four year old boy from somewhere, sometime, who disappeared one fall without a trace. Right at silo-filling time, of course. Nothing was ever seen of him again until the next winter when they were throwing silage down to feed the cows. They found his chopped up remains, in tiny bits, mixed in with the silage. He had wandered too close and fallen in when they were filling the silo and the chopper had devoured him. We listened, wide eyed and appalled. I don’t know if the story was actually true. It seems the stuff of myth.

Nights shifted then, from increasing chill to downright cold as October came. The first frosts, the world white as snow until the sun came up and warmed the earth. The grass in the yard a sea of tens of thousands of tiny white spears, shimmering in the sun. The fields of green turned a dull dead brown, and it was corn husking time.

In Aylmer they husked the corn by hand in those days. They still do, as far as I know. The memory of the method survives only among a diminishing group of hoary old-timers and those who live or have lived in Amish settlements where it’s still done today.

After breakfast, around daybreak, my older brothers hitched their teams to the flatbed box wagons and headed to the fields. One side of each wagon had a higher wall, a backboard. As they husked, they threw each ear of corn against the backboard. Eventually a large lopsided pile of yellow ears accumulated on the wagon bed.

They started at the end of the field, wading into the crackling brittle stalks and leaves, still wet with frost, harvesting one row on each pass. They wore tough white cloth gloves and a husking hook with leather straps on one hand. And down the row they went, in simple rhythm, husking, throwing, husking, throwing, the bright yellow ears plopping onto the pile or plunking against the backboard, the horses moving ahead the length of the wagon, then stopping on their own in direct proportion to the husker’s speed and skill.

The morning passed and at noon they headed to the barn and unloaded the corn, shoveling it onto a creaking clattering elevator that hoisted the ears and dropped them into long narrow corn cribs made of wooden slats and wire. They then fed and watered the horses and ate the noon meal and grabbed a quick nap. Then right back to the fields again, husking until it was too dark to see. Then unloaded again by hand and finished the chores by lantern light. Those were long, hard days.

On a good day, a man could harvest about an acre of corn. And wear out a new pair of tough white cloth gloves. And that’s the way it was done.

We went out too, and helped the best we could, after school and after chores. And on Saturdays. We probably got in the way more than we helped, but it was fun, not work and we wouldn’t have missed it.

In 1975, I graduated from the eighth grade at age thirteen. That fall, when I was fourteen, was my first and only season of husking corn by hand. My brothers, Stephen and Titus and I ventured to the fields with teams and wagons, day after day for weeks. My life revolved around the twist and motion of husking and throwing ears of corn.

Usually I, as the youngest, tagged along with one of my brothers and took the row closest to the wagon. Although work was paramount, we had fun as well, laughing and chatting as we plugged away, wagon length by wagon length, across the field. Reaching the end and turning right back the other direction. And slowly, so slowly, the rows of corn diminished, almost imperceptibly at first, then more rapidly as we closed in to the finish.

Stephen always stashed his single shot 12-gauge somewhere on the wagon, wrapped in a coat, just in case the odd pheasant or duck ventured too close. Once in a great while one did, and we proudly carried the wild game home to be plucked and butchered.

I remember those days, when the labor of harvest was stripped to the barest elements of man and sweat. The biting northwest winds, the cloud-swept skies, the forest of brown corn stalks in the spongy semi-firm fields. The geese and ducks migrating south in gigantic Vs, sprawling sideways in the wind, their wild harsh cries now clear and close, now faint and far.

And I heard and saw them, sweeping along in great rafts, disappearing into the southern skies. I breathed deep the frigid air, a nameless longing always stirred inside, an undefined yearning for something out there in the vast beyond. Something I knew I would one day seek.

We were young and strong and solid like rocks, our muscles hardened by the endless hours of unceasing labor. At the end of each day after the sun had set, we headed in the pitch black darkness or under the light of the harvest moon to the corn cribs to unload, exhausted to the bone. Wrapped up the chores and fed the horses and stumbled to the house, ravenous. There we wolfed our food (eating way too fast, as always) and fell into our beds, too tired to even read. Got up before daybreak the next morning to do it all again.

I can’t remember any time in my forty-seven years that I slept better than I did that fall.

And the days and weeks passed, we slogged on and on, and suddenly one day it was done. The last ear from the last row in the last field. A feeling of great satisfaction and accomplishment swept over us, we whooped and hollered like little children. But there was little time for extended celebration.

The corn harvest was over. And plowing season had begun.


Congratulations to the steely-eyed young Tampa Rays for regrouping and defeating the arrogant Red Sox in seven. I didn’t think they had it in them after their historic collapse in game five. Now if they can only take out the Phillies, which seems quite possible after winning one of the first two games.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have been around for about ten years, one of the youngest teams in the league. They were awful up until this year, usually finishing dead last. Then this year, they dropped the “Devil” from their name and promptly shot from worst to first. And the World Series. No worst-to-first team in any professional sport has ever won the championship. Ever.

Maybe it’s just me, but one would think there’s a fine stirring sermon in there some-where for some enterprising young preacher. If you happen to be that preacher, don’t worry about crediting me for the idea. Public service I’m happy to provide.

A great gathering of Waglers and Yutzys assembled from all points of the country this weekend in Hutchinson, KS for the wedding of my nephew, Titus Aden Yutzy and Sherilyn Kay Kuepfer. I couldn’t make the long trip. Besides, I was just out there in July. But of course I do wish the young couple all the best and a long and fruitful marriage.

Titus and Sheri Yutzy (as of Oct. 25, 2008)

On Monday, my father’s older brother, Noah Wagler of Daviess County, IN passed on to his reward. He was 94 years old. His funeral was yesterday. Of my father’s family, only three now remain. Dad, his older brother Abner of Aylmer, and his younger sister Rachel (Mrs. Homer) Graber of Kalona, IA.

This week I chatted with a friend from out of state. He called and mentioned that he’d read my last two blogs and was concerned. I’ve been a bit moody and uptight lately, he thought. I should try to cheer up a bit.

I couldn’t imagine where he got such a notion. Me moody? Uptight? Nah. Not so you’d notice. Except when I write, maybe.

He had a suggestion. “Go get yourself a really prime, well-baked pie,” he said. “Sit down, eat it and enjoy it. Savor every bite. Then write about how good it tasted.”

I couldn’t argue with his solution. Pie is always good, for any situation. I just don’t eat much of it since losing all that weight three years ago.

“Excellent thought,” I allowed cautiously. “Certainly worth serious consideration. One small problem. I don’t bake. Where am I gonna get the pie?”

Any volunteers out there? My favorites are cherry and raisin cream.



  1. If you come visit me I’ll try and get some pie around–:)

    I think it would do Aunt Rachel Graber good to hear from family–she has had a hard road lately and had to miss her brother Noah’s funeral due to her being in the hospital with a bloodclot (literally is the entire length of her leg–quite serious! with a long recovery time) as a result of surgery from a broken hip.

    I took her home from the hospital yesterday, but she has a long recovery ahead. She enjoys cards, notes and visits! She remains her chipper self and talks of how God allows nothing to happen to us that He won’t help us thru–

    Love you–Dorothy

    Comment by Dorothy — October 24, 2008 @ 8:20 pm

  2. I do believe that Barak Obama will be elected by a landslide on 4 November. John and Sarah were in the race until the economy began to deleverage. The very real threat of a deflationary depression following the almost historic stock market collapse (it needs to go to DOW 1,500 to be historic, 90% down as happened between 1929 and 1932) is stalking the land. The Democrats are usually successful when the debate is centered on domestic issues. Furthermore, economic downturns always turn out the incumbent and his / her party. Unlucky for Republicans. Furthermore, the Republicans long ago sold out their image as being the fiscally conservative party, spending like drunken sailors in an exotic port when they had the levers of power firmly in hand.

    Now for CHANGE. I see a vapid orator with about the same qualifications as William Jennings Bryan (think the brainless scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz which was an allegory of the election of 1896) getting the levers of power, joined by his henchmen Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. The mainstream press has taken off its mask of impartiality and is infecting its reporting, as opposed to its editorial page, with everything slanted to the Democrats (I just read an interesting analysis of their motivation by Michael Malone in his Silicon Insider column http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=6099188&page=1 , they are a desperate interest group fighting for survival and so have sold their souls for just a little more time). I believe that President Obama, the House and Senate and the conventional media may just have written their own death warrant, dying at the hands of the same economy that is about to hand them their great triumph. What I am about to conjecture does depend on the economy plowing into the deflationary depression that I suppose is coming upon us all. If the economy pulls out of recession by the end of 2009 and resumes robust growth, these people will be hailed as heroes. If we drop into depression (10% or more drop in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or alternately, unemployment over 10% and three years of negative GDP, even if not accumulating 10%), the majority that will so joyfully celebrate the Democrat sweep will come looking for blood. I see a 100 day program, intended to copy FDR (remember Barak Obama has a great well of over weaning pride) giving new benefits, new taxes to soak the “rich” and an aura of hope. Also, protectionist legislation to stop and even reverse the push for free trade. Also, a Fairness Doctrine designed to rid the air waves of conservative talk radio. Also, an exit from Iraq, one that was happening anyways.

    Meanwhile, the global economy will continue to deleverage and credit will continue to shrink as banks and nations struggle to stay solvent. The modern economy is so complex that the President, Congress and Federal Reserve Bank of the United States have no real power to control it or make it better by programs and good wishes. This was true when the United States did not have a $10 Trillion debt (accumulation over time) and a $400 Billion deficit (the fiscal year 2009 snap shot), let alone now. However, these agencies do have the power to make things much worse, delaying recovery of the national and global economy because of stupid laws and taxes that try to hold back the iron laws of economics in the interest of politics. About six months after the 100 days legislative spurt, the economy will settle further into depression as the quack remedies backfire. About this time, the electorate that was so overjoyed to see this secular messiah will start to say, “where’s the beef?” We elected you for change, but for the better. The initial defense will be “George W Bush is entirely to blame”. This will work for a short time then the electorate will push harder. They will say George Bush is yesterday’s news and you were supposed to fix the country and return us to the glory days of the 90’s and the housing bubble of the mid-2000s. Conservative talk radio will probably still be in the fight as challenges to the Fairness Doctrine wind through the courts. More so, the now really irritated electorate will understand much more than they do now, the role of the conventional media in pushing Obama nation on us.

    The political insiders and conventional media then will learn a very hard lesson about Moore’s Law of circuits http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore's_law and Metcalfe’s Law of Networks http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metcalfe%27s_law as both come to bite them on the butt. These laws say that computer power soars rapidly as prices plunge (Moore) and networks (like the Internet) explode in power as people are added to them (Metcalfe). Apparently, only Al Gore and a few other lawmakers have ever understood what an information age really means. If you read the Michael Malone story linked in above, you will see how inept Barak Obama is in the realm of high tech. Obviously, he understands nothing about the technology that is bending human civilization towards a Singularity (the last singularity was the invention of writing. Before that was the controlled use of fire and before that was agriculture, soon after Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden. Language was the first singularity but God imparted that directly when He created humans.). His handlers briefed him on enough tech terms that he appeared to be able to say something intelligent about the subject but then he conflated the Internet with the computer, which was clear evidence that he did not understand the concepts behind the words. The blogosphere grows in power with each year, even each month. It is decentralized and therefore much harder to stamp out.

    Meanwhile, President Obama will have another big problem, foreign relations. The world has once again become an ugly and scary place with players like Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Venezuela, North Korea and the terror network just spoiling for a fight. Most of these players have nuclear weapons. Tough gangsters like Alexander Putin of Russia are bidding their time to take Barak on for size. George W. Bush is still seen internationally as someone not to push too far, citing the three week conquest of Iraq as the prime example of why not to do so. John McCain is assumed to be a heavyweight by virtue of his military experience and trial of captivity, someone not be prodded lightly until he proves otherwise. In turn, Barak Obama is assumed to be a lightweight. On January 20, 2009, this man will become Commander in Chief of the United States military and exercise control of nuclear weapons, and he has absolutely zero military experience. Just like Bill Clinton, he has no idea what a military, let alone the world’s one hyerpower’s military, does and what the limits of a military are. Just wait until Alexander Putin or Caesar Chavez or both decide to take President Obama’s measure.

    Now, Barak Obama may pass the test with flying colors, doing all the right things at the right time, being conciliatory yet tough with an iron fist inside the velvet glove. The provokers would be surprised and other thugs would be less inclined to pick a fight. But this is a big “however” and even if Barak Obama is up to the task, the perception of lightweight will bring the test. Now, look at President Obama with a floundering economy that he can no longer credibly blame on George W. Bush while being bounced by the world’s thugs, themselves desperate to salve their nations’ economic woes and trying to blame the United States or the West or both for the ruined economy. By 2012, Barak Obama will raise the same visceral reaction in the electorate as Herbert Hoover did in late 1932. Right now, the Democratic congress has a lower approval rating than George W. Bush. Where do you think they will be in 2012? 2010?

    High stress times in American history have brought forward some significant changes. The United States had two great depressions between 1835 and 1842. In this time, the Democratic Republican party disappeared after 40 years of success and the Whigs appeared as a force to be reckoned with. In 1860, the country was in violent turmoil, the nation on the edge of a national travail deeper than anything before or since. The Republican party became the power of the Union, after entering presidential politics for the first time only four years before. The Republicans dominated national politics in the afterglow of the American Civil War until the Great Depression, phase 1, swept the Democrats to power for decades to come. This is Democrat death warrant that I alluded to before, done in by the economy’s condition. One does not want to be the sitting president or otherwise in the incumbent party during a depression. Unjust as the supposition is, you are blamed for the disaster which you could not stop just as you would have taken credit in good times for the sunny economy that you did not create. Life can be cruel but politicians who live by the sword can also be eviscerated by that sword.

    What will come about in the next decade if depression grips the land now? One possibility is a resurrected Republican party run by names you have never heard of before (with the possible exceptions of Sarah Palin and Robert Jindahl) who will make the party really fiscally and socially conservative. Another possibility is a new party. I do not think that the current third parties such as the Constitutional and Libertarian will suddenly become major parties but some of the ideas of these small parties may show up in the new major party. I do not vote in earthly elections anymore, seeing my citizenship in Heaven. I do encourage those who do vote to go for the socially conservative candidate, first asking the question, what is your stand on abortion on demand? I think this time around, Leroy has sound advice. Vote your heart. If your candidate looses, you can say that you tried and in 2012, ride a tide that could be very anti-Democrat. Four years of Barak Obama could be a life saving medicine, arriving just in time to save the Union and give us an effective president and congress in 2012, just as the current economic travail might have saved us from something worse if the distortions were to have continued for another few years.

    Comment by Mark Hersch — October 25, 2008 @ 1:44 am

  3. Lovely entry, Ira — one of many things I love about not being in the South anymore is that we have real seasons, real Falls up here. You are certainly at your best when not discussing politics (or discussing ad nauseum how and why you will not be discussing politics).

    Keep up the great writing, Ira — reading your blog remains one of my favorite Friday night “traditions.” Your writing, coupled with strong photographs, will make a beautiful book; and not just for the coffee table.

    Comment by Mark Graham — October 25, 2008 @ 10:40 am

  4. For all you Phillies fans, as we sit here waiting on the rain-delay I have a suggestion. As a courtesy we would like to invite the Phillies back to Tropicana Field to finish the series, where we can play rain or shine. GO RAYS!!!

    Comment by P. Graber — October 25, 2008 @ 9:45 pm

  5. Fall is that special time of year…
    It has always been that way for me, and it seems to be for a lot of others as well.

    I, too, remember the harvest fields….the honking of the geese as they headed southward…making that > against that blue blue sky, headed for who knows where. [ahhhh…what memories]

    I believe that there is something about fall as one experiences it, especially in the northern regions, that reaches deep into the subconscious part of man.

    For, there are countless examples of how, within nature and it’s creatures, there is something programmed that is beyond human explanation.

    The livestock putting on their winter coats…
    That squirrel, busy busy, running with puffy cheeks stuffed full of nuts…headed to it’s place of storage…
    Some birds disappearing…headed for their winter home….
    While others began to appear…
    Hordes of blackbirds swooping in, in unison, on the harvest fields.
    Getting a bite to eat…their songs filling the air.
    Then…in unison…taking off again…on their way to ‘somewhere’.

    As was mentioned in this post…something stirs within.
    A longing…a voice…a call…

    A longing….voice….call that just might of been placed within man, as well?
    A voice that some in this world are trying to quench [powers that be], shrouded by religion, overridden by the clamor of ‘life’.

    As those geese head southward…what are they doing but responding to a call…a pull!!
    If someone would ask those geese, “Where are you headed and why”, I’m sure they couldn’t give you a concrete answer.
    Their response would be, “We aren’t really sure. We simply feel the need/call/urge to go…and it pulls from this direction. Seems…we must needs go…thataway!.”
    [rather defies reason/logic…doesn’t it]

    Christianity has a song…“there’s a call comes ringing ore the restless waves”…

    If there ever was a time of ‘restless waves’ we are living in it.
    Restless waves…a sign of turbulent waters…stormy seas…ahead.
    Time to button down the hatches!
    Or to seek that sheltered cove…

    I don’t believe this ‘call’ is for those that want to be ‘religious’.
    Or for those that are content with this thing called ‘christianity’.
    If you are content with what calls itself ‘christianity’, or want something that makes you feel ‘religious’, then you have got what you want.
    By all means, stick with what you’ve got, for that is where you belong.

    There was a book written, long ago, called ‘The Call of the Wild’.
    By Jack London, I do believe.
    I read it many times, many years ago as a young lad.

    There was this wolf [or dog/wolf..not sure] raised by a loving master from the time it was a pup.
    It had all it could ask for, as far as the ‘good’ things of life.

    Seemed to be totally ‘domesticated’.

    Yet, one day, that wolf began to feel a restless within.
    It got stronger….and stronger…till one day it could ignore it no more.
    It returned to the wild.

    That wolf….was simply responding…to a call.

    A call from deep within….placed there by no one but Him.

    Ahhhhh….surely…there is nothing like that call!
    That call…that overrides…everything that makes sense, you could say.
    Defies reason…

    That wolf was not religious…it simply responded to that voice deep within…

    Comment by fritz — October 26, 2008 @ 11:26 am

  6. Great piece! I enjoyed every word and would agree that this type of writing is your forte.

    I am sitting in my living room listening to the wind whistle outside as a cold front blows in, so it was the perfect piece to read. I miss those corn husking days. There is something about pitting yourself against the elements and testing your strength to the limits…

    Comment by Mariann Martin — October 27, 2008 @ 11:51 am

  7. Thanks for this elegant essay on sad but beautiful autumn.

    Comment by Gideon Yutzy — October 27, 2008 @ 4:28 pm

  8. We missed you at the wedding, you would have enjoyed every minute. We were delighted to have much family here. We fed 180 the night before the wedding. Not everyone here yet. They served 435 the wedding day. The couple is still in Mexico, do hope no one kidnaps them.

    Comment by Rachel — November 1, 2008 @ 11:20 pm

  9. My goodness! So much work on a farm.

    Comment by Francine — April 10, 2013 @ 12:07 am

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