I squirm around in the black leather seat, searching for just the right position where my back and hips don’t ache. My day started at 7:00 am and my forty-something body isn’t used to sitting in a grain truck seat, racing back and forth all day between field and grain elevator. The digital clock on the dashboard reads 6:54 pm, but it’s the dead of summer in Idaho and the heat continues to hang in the air.
A small trickle of sweat meanders its way down my neck and I lean back to stop it, my shirt absorbing it and making a tiny wet spot on my collar. Ick. I rub from side to side in the seat, trying to itch away the irritating prickle on my back created by a light layer of wheat dust that always finds it’s way onto my skin, even under my shirt and in my socks.
I look down distastefully at my thick, cotton socks and thick sport tennis shoes and realize my toes are sweaty soggy inside. I hate wearing tennis shoes and socks in the heat of summer, but Dad frowns on flip-flops. This is his office and a dress code is required for safety—damn comfort, coolness, and fashion. He’s right, though. I remember every time I scooted out across a stubble field as a kid wearing shorts and flip-flops, my shins received the brunt of the freshly cut stalks of wheat or barley, their sharp edges digging into my skin and leaving thin bloody streaks trickling in vertical lines. As an adult, I know better to tempt fate. Yes, I’ve become practical.
Finally, a soft breeze with a slight coolness to it wafts through the open windows of my truck and I breathe it in. The thick smell of the season causes thousands of images from past harvests to flicker through my brain. There’s nothing like the smell of fresh-cut grain. There’s a touch of dust, a dash of chaff, and a pinch of dried grass. It’s a unique mixture and one I’ve never smelled anywhere else but in the grain fields. Small pockets of fresher air sneak in my truck cab occasionally, and I breathe deep again, knowing it’s full of nothing but natural pollutants.
My brother, Cody, is cutting on the distant hillside, slowly and methodically making his way through the tall stands of wheat. The combine leaves behind wide ribbons of alternating light and dark reflecting the back and forth of his chosen pattern for this particular field. He disappears behind the swell of the hill. I suddenly feel alone with Cody out of sight. We’re miles away from the main road, the nearest house at least three hills to the east. Suddenly I realize it’s so quiet it’s noticeable. But then, the buzz of a yellow jacket bouncing around low to the ground begins to fill the air. Pieces of stubble make subtle pops and cracks, finally drying completely now that the head bursting with wheat berries is gone, sliced off clean by the big red combine’s razor-sharp sickles.
I feel tired, but it’s a good tired. It’s hard work tired. It’s satisfying tired, being part of something important, something bigger than me, the wheat offering meals to families across the nation and world. There’s also a tinge of nostalgia mixed with that tired. I miss my childhood riding in the truck with my mom and watching my dad do exactly what my brother is doing right now. My stomach growls in hunger, which I find ironic as I’m nestled in the rolling hills of wheat, barley, peas, and lentils, the food of the world. But, because it’s getting late and all I had was a sandwich and some fruit in my lunch box, I’m anxious for Cody to come back around.
I’m waiting for him to fill his bulk tank and dump to finish filling my truck so I can drive it back to Mom and Dad’s, nestle it carefully in the shed, and head in for dinner and bed. The loaded truck will be ready to dump first thing in the morning at the grain elevator, just like I did this morning and will continue to do every day until every last kernel is scooped out of the 1700 acres of fields, and the crop is buttoned up for another year.
Slowly the comforting whir of the combine increases in volume as Cody maneuvers back into view. The shadows are long and darkness begins to settle, first in the low draws, then inching up the hills until dusk covers the entire landscape. The sky is a beautiful combination of periwinkle, navy, and purple tinged with pink and orange. Cody begins his journey back to my truck. He’s full. The combine’s external lights flick on to illuminate his way as a growing sliver of a harvest moon shows itself behind him, ready to rise and offer a light of its own. This is my favorite time of year. This is harvest.
This originally appeared in Idaho Grains Magazine.