Time slows and stalls here in the Palouse, especially when it rains during harvest and keeps the machinery from the fields. It's been that kind of harvest this summer. Too much rain fell too hard and fast, and only today--three days later--did combines get back into the wheat. All along the road to town are fields half cut with small stands of wheat still ripe within already cut fields, left when the farmers felt the heavy drops of a summer storm pound their machines and flatten the grain. Those stands of wheat, now wait--with the farmers--to be leveled to stubble. It makes grown men impatient and grumpy. Thinking of contingency plans, revised harvest schedules; it makes them anxious to do what they've spent the year planning for.
Imagine that. Imagine working a whole year for a single pay-off. Laying all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. Or maybe all your wheat in one elevator. Imagine the waiting and the worrying, and the second-guessing one does to get it all cut, all in a timely fashion, all sold for the best possible price. The farm I know best here on the Palouse isn't much of an eggs-in-one-basket proposition--they're half-farm/half-ranch, and one half can save the other's bacon, when times are tough and pay-outs meager. They're one of the few like this here on the Palouse--or maybe anywhere. Most farms deal in wheat and other legumes, with varying success, at various geographies across this region. So this time of year, it's their livelihood they're treading water for, they need to harvest at exactly the right moment to get the best price for their yield. It's a science and an art, and more than a little theology all at once.
But for me, a part-time visitor right at the center of THE time of the year, I am filled with wonder. The fields are breath-takingly golden, as glorious as any snow-capped mountain or frothy sea, rolling with waves. There are waves in this land-locked region as well, when the wind whips the grain like a golden ribbon across the tops of steep hills. It's almost like the wheat is having its own harvest dance. And I love the sound of the wind in those stalks, the very sounds of creation in the fields. But I also love the deep bass rumble of combines coming over a hill, blades whirring, wheat stalks being chewed up and separated--divided into the very wheat and chaff of the gospel. I love the smell of freshly cut wheat, especially as it showers down into a wheat truck with dust and grass and kernels together. I'd like to ride in those grain trucks just to watch the wheat cascade into the large bin. In middle school, when I'd become friends with a farm-girl, I remember jumping in such trucks, dancing my own harvest dance beneath the spray of grain on top of us. I'd go home, itchy from the chaff in my clothing, and teeth clean and sparkling from the kernels of wheat I'd chewed like chewing gum. And over the decade of my post high school, pre-married life, I rode in quite a few combines as well. Old open-air combines, on blazing hot days, where I had to scream to make my voice heard over the mighty engine and the whirling blades. I loved it all. Give me half a chance and I'll climb up into a combine tomorrow. Really I'd like to.
Except that harvest is the worst time of year for me here. See, I suffer from hay fever. And by that I mean that I am allergic to dust and grass pollen, wheat and hay in its original form. In fact, as we drove into town Friday night, my eyes knew sooner than I did that it is harvest here. A sniff later, and I was hanging my head. It doesn't matter how much I'd like to live harvest from within the work, I can't. A few years ago, when we'd brought E over to start school, we drove out to where my brother-in-law and farmhands were cutting a field so enormous it took 4 combines, a couple of trucks and a flatbed semi to haul away the harvest. We wanted to take some photographs, maybe to frame a few pictures of the home-land.
But I'd only been out of the truck about 3 minutes when I started coughing. Except that it wasn't really coughing, but was more like trying to suck a miniscule amount of air into my lung (or so it seems). It was a little disturbing that it was so difficult, but far more disturbing to Beve and my sister. While I still saying, "I"ll be --wheeze--fine---wheeze--I just have to--wheeze--catch my breath." Yes, a college graduate and as dumb as a post, that's me (especially when my health has an impact on others' behaviors). I really hate that, REALLY. But Beve and RE weren't in the mood to argue with me. They simply forced me back into the pick-up and drove me back into town, making me use someone's inhaler as we went. What amazed me at the time, and even more now, is that that asthma dissapated as quickly as it came, once I was out of that poisonous environment. What a lesson that is, isn't it?
I don't know why it is that I am drawn to something my body is clearly allergic to. Why I always have to take a bite of cantelope, for example, even though it always makes my mouth and throat itch like crazy. Why I can't quite bear to give up melted cheese, even though it does the same thing. The things I don't like? Like peas, mayonnaise, oatmeal, high mountain roads? Why can't I be allergic to them? Deep sigh. But, as kids would say, 'It is what it is.'
And 'what it is' means that I'll watch harvest from the safety of my air-controlled car, and experience it through E's photographs. It's not quite like watching it on TV, but certainly isn't the real thing. When I was young and foolish, I rode in combines any way. Paid for it the next day, but didn't count the price too dear for getting to do something that so appealed to me. Now? I count the cost differently. With Paul, I say, 'I have the right to do anything--but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything--but I will not be mastered by anything." (1 COR. 6:12)
So what I get of harvest--the sight, the sounds, the smell, even the taste (we had fresh blackberry pie tonight that E and her cousins picked/harvested)--is enough. To be here again, to watch the big machines in the fields, to listen to the harvest stories--of accidents, breakdowns, near misses, successes--all this is enough.
Yes, enough--good enough that God uses these simple, humble people, with work ethics as strong as steel rebar stiffening up their backbones for the long days and sometimes back-breaking work. It is good indeed. And I'm just plain lucky to get to be a spectator for the show.