Friday, October 10, 2014

The Green Eyed Monster

"ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – As St. Louis gets set for another “Red October”, the Cardinals and their fans get slammed in the national media.
Wall Street Journal report labeled the Cardinals the most “hateable” team in the 2014 Major League Baseball playoffs."
"Don’t hate us be­cause we’re beau­tiful here in St. Louis. But if you do, just know that we’re sorry. Go Cards!"

Francis Slay, mayor St. Louis

...And why, you might ask, are the St. Louis Cardinals, a fabled franchise from a small market city, even on the radar screen with such legendary bulls'eyes as the Yankees or the Red Sox on one coast, or those in Dodger blue or San Fran orange on the other?  What could possibly get the attention of other fans in other cities and their media?  Why are the guys with the birds on the bat inciting emotions like "hate"? 

I got only one answer....and it will hold true whether the Cards advance this year or not: 


But, this isn't really a post about baseball.  Nope, this is about power. 

As a child, my farmer husband dreamt of fielding grounders at second base for the Cardinals, even though calling him"JULI"was ironic, not iconic. He would never have imagined a world in which spraying champagne in the Cardinal clubhouse would pale in comparison to an unexpressed need of many outside farming to sail high above the prairie seas of rustling grain in a galleon of green steel delivering more than 300 horsepower and enough electronic bells and whistles to convince the driver he's piloting a Star Wars X Wing.

What is it about combines that makes people with no knowledge of agriculture and no desire to be a farmer want to climb that steep ladder and drive off into the sunset?

 Tots not yet out of diapers, esteemed public servants and diplomats, professors with pedigrees, writers and historians of note, and, no doubt, the guy next to you in traffic, all want to partake of the penultimate drama of nature: to battle the elements and looming winter to bring in the bounty of the spring and summer toil and ensure security for the year to come. It is the story that binds our ancestors before history to those tied to the land today by nothing more than menus and websites.  And in the fall of the year, that elemental urge is expressed by a desire to harvest...something big.... 

You think I'm kidding?  Over our years of farming, we have entertained all matter of guests in the buddy seat of the combine. Farmers do their work all spring and summer noted only by statisticians. But when we tell folks to come back and visit in the fall, when the summer heat subsides, the sunsets and sunrises glow, and the air hums with the throb of big motors, they brighten and ask, "Can I ride the combine?"

In the real world, harvest is both more and less than the stately crawl of the giant machines around the gentle contours of sun drenched hills and river bottom fields so long the rows vanish in a point.  It is long: long days becoming short nights, the caresses of September morphing into the nail scratching blackboard irritation of November. 

Harvest is endurance, patience, boredom, beauty, and breakdowns. 

From the highway at 70 mph, it has the choreographed grace of ballet or a beehive, with each piece sliding into its task with just-in-time efficiency.

In reality, mud, dust, oil and electricity are mortal enemies of fine tuning. Entropy happens between May and October. There's many a slip 'twixt the cup of spring planting and the lip of harvest. Varmints tunnel into terraces; branches fall in turning rows; downpours ravage conservation structures; stones rise to the surface.

In all fairness, even farmers are susceptible to the siren song of the combine and the romantic aura that seems to surround the harvest season.  Every September the big behemoths grumble to life and are coaxed out of their sheds like grizzlies after hibernation.  They are greased, washed, and given acomplete physical.  After a particularly rough year, they may get the equivalent of a makeover.  The hierarchy of combines rules on our farm; the patriarch drives the newest model and the other combine is driven by....well, not the patriarch.  Even the youngest riders recognize this pecking order and follow one of their own, choosing Grandpa Charlie's combine (less dust, more electronics, etc.) to...well, the other guy's.

Mayor Francis Slay could be speaking for farmers when he writes:  
"The point is that we here in the Mid­west are not a boast­ful peo­ple. We’re hum­ble and qui­etly go about our busi­ness, invent­ing the things you use every day, en­ter­tain­ing you, find­ing employ­ment for your cit­i­zens and hand­ing you losses on the base­ball field reg­u­larly. (We’re es­pe­cially sorry to Chicago.)"

During harvest, we farmers fill our go-cups, or our aging Thermoses, vainly run the wipers in an attempt to sweep off last night's dust, and drive through the foggy or frosty air to work.  We shatter the morning's silence, rev up the throttle on the tractor to run the auger, start the grain trucks and watch the torrent of grain leave the hoppers, pump some diesel....and climb into our homes for the harvest, our room with a view.  The hydraulics whine, the chains and sickle bars clatter and the whole contraption rumbles off, clicking off the hours, clearing the acres, multiplying the acres row by row.   Pretty mundane.  Not the stuff of heroics..

 We'll hope nothing breaks....

we will eat another meal out of plastic....

and.... not to worry.....
we'd be pleased to have you ride along.....