There’s something about harvesting at night. When you know a landscape, you know its lights at night: the various yard lights punctuate the darkness. And so when there are bright lights where there is usually only the dark, you know a farmer is out there working. Rain is coming and so they work long after nightfall. The harvest late shift.
I see lights as I drive home, and I know they are in our field since I know where all our fields are, even when it’s dark. In the yard there are more lights where usually there are none. The bin yard is illuminated by the headlights of two pick-ups. The grain truck, which we call the “diesel truck” to distinguish it from the other grain truck, has its box tilted up. I hear the familiar sound of grain swishing down into the hopper where the augur’s whirring blades suck it up and deposit it into the waiting granary.
The smell of grain dust hangs in the air. There is movement and energy in the night, as there is always, but this is a more urgent energy, one powered by machine. Some might think it disrupts the quiet, but I am comforted by it. There’s something about it. Something that feels like home.
“Sorrow and scarlet leaf,
Sad thoughts and sunny weather.
Ah me, this glory and this grief
Agree not well together!” – Thomas Parsons, 1880, A Song For September
I’m often a bit melancholy on my birthday – the inexorable passage of time and all that. But perhaps another reason is what the poetry above captures so well about September, both its glory and its grief. September weather is often brilliant and beautiful, but the ever changing colours of the landscape and the slanting of the sun remind us that summer is truly on the way out. Maybe the fact that I was born in mid September explains some of my tendencies toward melancholy, to having trouble enjoying the “now” for thinking of how it will soon be the past.
That September is harvest time also fits with this theme. Harvest is the reaping of the fullness and ripeness of the crops that were sown in spring. It is the end of a cycle. It is a kind of death. Of course, it is also life because what is reaped from the fields sustains us through winter and beyond. But it is also watching the fields, which have been so full of vibrant life throughout the summer, be stripped bare in a few swipes of the combine.
These themes of harvest are universal and worldwide and if you read about Virgos that’s the sort of symbolism that is described. But it takes on a literal significance for me since I grew up and live in an agricultural place and so I see it right outside my door.
I have always been my dad’s “harvest girl,” ever since I was born on this day in 1988. That year, one of the very dry years of the ’80s, “we” were already done combining for the year, which was unusual. So my dad could be at ease, or at least some form of it, when my mom went into labour and he drove her up to Regina so I, their firstborn, could come into the world.
I think everyone has some birthlore – the story and circumstances surrounding their birth, the memories that stick out of that day to parents and family members. I’ve heard lots about mine, so much that I can vividly imagine my dad speedily but carefully driving up the Correction Line in the maroon Oldsmobile, puffing away at a cigarette.
Though we were done harvest the year I was born, it is typically not the case on September 16th. When the sun makes its seasonal revolution back to the point in the sky where it was when I was born, harvest is almost always in full swing. So I usually don’t get to spend a lot of time with my dad on that day. We are very close, and apparently have been since September 16, 1988. I came quite a bit earlier than exepcted (thankfully, I am so NOT a Libra), and so I was in the special care newborn nursery where he came to visit me. As the story goes, I grabbed his pinky finger in my tiny fist. When I was a little girl, instead of holding my dad’s hand, I would hang on to his pinky finger. Harvest supercedes pretty much everything else, and so I understand that my dad is usually not available for celebration on my birthday.
This year we are definitely not done harvest. The weather has been unseasonably wet and cool and harvest is well behind. Thankfully this week seems to be a return to the much needed drying days, and so harvest has resumed. My own little birthday ritual every year when I’m home at the farm is to go out and make my own small harvest of various crops to make a harvest bouquet. That’s what I did this morning, this time with my camera along.
My dad was home for a bit at lunchtime, and he came out to investigate the crops I had brought home: flax, wheat and durum (which is a kind of wheat, the hardest and most protein rich and this is why it is used to make pasta). He broke the heads in his palm and examined the kernels within. By colour and form, he could make an estimation of the overall crop yield and quality. It was a lovely moment. Then he had to get back to work, and I had things to do, too. But it was a harvest moment for a harvest day, and all in all, I can say it was a good birthday.