Friday, September 2, 2016


By mid-September it was
harvesting time for the corn
crop. Corn grew everywhere.
The local farmers grew it, it
seemed, in every field nook
and cranny they could find.
Along with hay, it's really
what got their cows through
the Winter, and every other
day too. Corn was (cattle corn),
of vital importance. As silage,
after it was chipped and
chopped and blown into the
silos, fresh, it would  -  over
time, and with the weight
of itself, piled up, and heat,
begin to ferment. By end
of season, when the silage
was getting pretty empty
(usually sometime close
to the middle of Spring,
when the cows could go
outside and begin eating
the new growth and grasses,
etc., instead of the stored
up silage) it was all almost
like booze  -  a heady,
alcoholic fermentation
which could sometimes
be enough to make a
cow woozy. They liked
the stuff, and a buzzed cow
is something to see, yeah.
Deep silage had the coolest
smell  -  like an elixir, sweet
and boozy too. Night-train
express for cows. (Night Train
Express is the cheap, street
booze the bums drank  -
major nasty, super strong,
known to blot out the brain
with extended use. It's still
sold, still around, but I don't
know what anyone drinks
these days). When corn-
harvest time came, Warren 
(Warren Gustin was one 
of the neighboring farmers 
I worked for, for 'milk 
and meat'  -  as it was put, 
meaning food and supplies  
-  no money. Most of
whatever I'd need  -  nails
and tools, some gasoline,
milk, butchered meat, etc.  
-  They just sort of took 
me on as a family member. 
I'd walk over there, about 
5:30 am, to get the farm
day started, and be busy 
until maybe 8 or so, then 
go back, if nothing else 
came up, about 3, for 
the afternoon and evening 
stuff. It sounds dreary, 
but it wasn't and it all 
worked out. Because 
of the Hurricane Agnes 
flood, which pretty well 
wiped-out Elmira for 
over a year, and Whitehall 
Printing too, I had no 
other work.The only 
cash I generated was a 
$4200 a year contract 
to take care of the local 
schoolhouse (now a car 
junkyard, oddly enough) 
and 10 or so bucks a day 
driving a school bus 
around at certain times), 
anyway  -  Warren and 
I, for the field work, 
had an agreement that
I could make my own 
decisions about hat to 
do and when, so I had 
the ready control of his 
tractors, and truck, and 
cars too  -  all part of the 
reciprocal agreement. 
Plus, whenever I chose, 
I cold eat over there, 
with them. I didn't do 
that often, but sometimes 
I did. It was like eating 
with The Waltons, an 
old TV show about that 
stuff  -  about 8 people 
too, and me; big family  
-  even had a Grandpa.
I'd jump on a tractor 
(John Deere) when I 
felt like it and just 
start cutting the rows 
and rows of acres of 
corn. It was the greatest, 
most solitary thing I'd 
ever done : the big old 
power plant beneath me, 
the roar and grumble of 
the tractor, the steering, 
the bumps and ridges 
(they had no suspension, 
rode rigid, except for the 
sprung seat). All around 
me, higher than my head, 
or even, was the natural, 
strange, outside-of-ordinary 
experience of moist and 
noisy corn plants going 
down. I'd be towing a 
huge cutting blade that
would swipe down the 
plants, row by row. The 
tall corn plants would
remain where they fell,
maybe a day, maybe two,
so as to dry out just a bit.
Then I'd come back with
the tractor, towing a 
harvester rig too. It would
lay its daggers along the
ground, pick up the cut
corn plants and feed them
into the chopping blades.
The harvester had a tall
directional smokestack
sort of thing, adjustable 
for height and direction, 
and when connected it 
would then blow the 
chipped and harvested
corn, by this time all
little chunks, into the
silage wagon running 
alongside me  -  if 
another tractor was 
along  -  or behind me,
if I was pulling yet
another wagon. Once 
the wagon got filled 
up, it was back of the 
barn with the wagon, 
and it was again blown 
along, this time into
the silo top, slowly 
filling it up for the 
upcoming cold season. 
The fermentation of 
the new, wet crop of 
silage would begin.
This was all pretty magical
stuff for me, and I grew
constantly amazed at what 
I'd learn and see and do.
I'd never had an education
of this sort at all. No tricks,
just straightforward work,
but a real and solid work, 
the sort of work that had 
grown this country up
from nothing. It used to
make all that frothy 
department store and
amusement stuff look
like nothing to me. Pure,
waste, people doing 
nothing. It was as if  -  
unless you experienced
this kind of process and
work  - you had no real
hands-on experience of
what life was about, its 
work and its struggles.
Each day we'd shovel 
out the feed for the cows 
and cattle  -  there was 
some beef cattle being 
raised too, for butchering 
and selling as rendered 
product. It wasn't all
and always dairy  -  
from the little door hatch
at the bottoms of the silo. 
It was last, as I said, if 
done right, for 7 or 8 
months, as you eventually 
reached the boozy bottom  
-  and about time to begin 
the process all over again.
(No one ever wanted a 
failure. No one could 
afford it; but sometimes 
there were silage failures. 
It happened  -  usually 
to dumb or drunk or 
sloppy farmers, those 
whose all other habits
were bad too. You could
tell; it was always the same
sorts of guys). What could
go wrong? Mildew. Rot. 
Moisture. It could all 
almost turn to poison, 
and then you were stuck. 
Sick cows. Having to 
buy feed, for months,
probably with money 
you never had in the 
first place. Selling
cows, losing product. 
Real bad.
Before the corn, in later
July, and August, there's
be haying. Or the cutting 
of other crops   -  some 
guys grew oats  -  large 
beautiful fields of an 
ocean-colored green-blue
that just shone in the sun. 
A beautiful shimmering
field of glory. In the 70's 
other guys were trying 
soybeans. Back then it 
was touted as a wonder 
crop to grow; high protein,
great food future, and all.
Some people tried it; seems 
though it never really 
took off. Fields of alfalfa
and timothy, and other 
grasses, they all had to 
be cut, and then baled.
All automated, towed-
with-tractor stuff, just 
like the corn, just not as
mysterious. Hay-baler 
machines, cutting blades,
great swipes through the
standing fields, the baling 
machine pulling up all the
cuttings and then square
packing then in bales, 
already tied with string, 
all machine done. One 
guy would be driving 
the tractor and three 
or four of us, walking
behind a slowly-driven
pick-up truck or
hay-wagon, would 
have to stoop to pick
up each of the bales (they
were unceremoniously
spit out onto the ground
as finished bales of hay)
and throw them up onto 
the truck or wagon, while 
another one or two people, 
on that wagon or truck, 
would tightly stack and 
position the bales. A 
truckload could be 
200 bales, guessing. 
Then, back to the barn
barn, to the 'elevator' 
ramp, which was a 
mechanized chain 
drive that would pulley 
up each bale, after we
again handled and 
lifted each one, 
maybe 20 pounds
each, the 'wetter' and 
newer the hay was, 
the heavier too. This 
hay-elevator would 
carry the bales up to 
the hayloft, top part 
of the barn with a 
top side door, where 
again we'd have to
handle and haul and 
carefully stack each 
bale  -  all for the long,
upcoming Winter and 
Spring, until next 
growth  -  food and
bedding too, the hay 
was.  It took care, 
and some knowledge 
too. No drunks or fools 
please. If the hay was 
too wet, or stacked
incorrectly, as it 
simmered and made 
heat, an air current left
open by mistake  -  
leaving a gap or a 
channel  -  could 
erupt the heated and 
almost cooking hay 
as that air current passed
along it. It would/could 
ignite, of its own accord, 
make a flame, and
take down a barn, 
and cattle, to smithereens. 
Unchecked fire. I know;
I've seen it. No fun. So, 
that was only a part  -  
all work, no play, 
makes Jack go away?

No comments: