I have lived in the Heartland most of my life. I was born in the desert of Western Kansas and later moved to the Oklahoma/Kansas border. After I got married I moved to South Central Nebraska for 15 years and in 2005, back to the center of Kansas. While you will hear me often complain about the weather hurting my body and frost biting my face, the truth is, the summer in Kansas is glorious to me. The sunrise on a still Kansas morning is a work of absolute God Breathed art and the Kansas sunsets are the prettiest of any I have seen across the world. The purple and orange/red majesty will soothe a soul and bring tears to sentimental lovers. I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything, and the comfort of an old pickup with the windows down, the warm wind blowing through, and the radio turned up loud is the best therapy you can ever give me. Kansas, I have escaped from you and returned to you, somewhat begrudgingly, only to recall why I am at HOME in Kansas.
Life in this rough old state isn’t easy. If you are brave enough stick it out, you will encounter the challenges of making your living on the plains. Farming is a gamble with odds so bad that even big gamblers in Vegas wouldn’t take them. Ask any farmer from Texas to South Dakota why they do what they do and I can guarantee that the answer will be the same one that you will hear my husband, son, son in-law, his dad, grandpa and any number of our friends, answer with the same reply, “It’s what we do, we love the land.” Once you get a taste of the dirt, you can’t get it out of your life. From the time that tractor plows the first turning of the ground the intoxicating smell of fresh tilled “hope” arises. I remember when my son was a baby and we would be against the wall to get our field work done on a weekend and beating the weather was always the challenge. I would pack him up in his infant seat, get the lunch box packed with bottles and a sandwich and head to the field in the old red pickup. I was always nervous turning the key of the tractor and hooking up the undercutter, afraid a hydraulic hose would blow and I was in the middle of nowhere Kansas by myself. These were the days before cell phones and we couldn’t depend on anyone except my parents to know where we were and come for help if I didn’t make it home. If it would get too late, I would see my Dad’s blue Dodge creeping down the access road looking for me. The comfort that would give was like a lighthouse to me. I knew that if I wasn’t finished yet he would take the baby home and I could finish. It was the same when I was baling feed all night with my baby down in the canyon. Here he would come, a cold beer, a cigarette, a little dinner and just him, me, a sleeping baby and a Fall crescent moon. We would take enough time to have a visit, a break and he would load up my baby. I would get back in the tractor, engage the PTO and start down the windrow. He would sit in the pick up and watch for a minute then I would see his tail lights head out of the field. I cherish those moments, because while those were some of the hardest times for Mike and I in our relationship, the rock and love and support of my folks pulled us through. I miss my Dad. I miss my Mom. Time has jetted past me and now, I watch my son take his baby in his tractor. He’s got a cooler full of bottles, snacks, a sandwich and the dirt flies behind as he now turns that soil. The hope springs from the earth and the anticipation of seeing your crop go from seed to harvest is the most stressful waiting game that a man will endure.
This year in Kansas we have seen weather that I have never experienced in my 51 years. Western Kansas desert has had more than 40 inches of rain since June. Central Kansas has seen a drought and record heat. The farming conditions are less than recognizable for the farming practices that we have depended on since time in memoriam. There is nothing predictable. This Fall’s harvest has been prolonged to unrealistic time frames because of inclement weather, fields that are flooded, grain that won’t dry, elevators that won’t stay open when farmers have a 2 day window to get back to the field, loss of money because of the dock if the grain is too wet, freeze, thaw, clouds, no wind, birds eating crops to almost annihilation, snow. My Grandfather used to say that a drought will steal a man’s hope. Well, he was absolutely right because as soon as a rain would come the hope would return to his eyes. Today, I see it all around me the worry and distress in the eyes of most everyone that I know who depends on the goodness of God to get him through harvest and the worry of your year’s work falling over in the field if we happen to get a wet snow, or a high wind. The sleepless nights wear a man down. Wives who watch and try to lend emotional support and ease the worry are left not knowing how to remedy the stress, so they fix a hot meal and sit and patiently listen. Sometimes when tempers fly, we have to realize that it is not about anything we did, it is just the frustration and worry comes out at the only person who can calm the storm.
I don’t expect many to understand this post but I will say that a consistent theme in my blog is simply “be nice”. If you know nothing about farming or where your food comes from, try to educate yourself. I would ask that if you go to church with a farmer or see a farmer, give him a pat on the back, shake his hand, ask him how he’s holding up. I am the hugger, so I give an extra hug. The national suicide rate in the United States is rising. The suicide rate among American Farmers is higher than the rate of suicide rate of American Veterans. Here is an article that I found helpful and disturbing. While this article is from 2017, the numbers have unfortunately increased. Take a minute to read it.
until then…. thank a farmer, hug em tight