Thursday, March 26, 2015


Autumn has always been my favourite season because of its association with my idyllic memories of harvest. When I think of my favourite autumn colours, they are in terms of farming and rural life: the burnt orange of pea stubble; the sunny gold of aspens; the scattering of yellow and red leaves over green grass; the rich variety of pale and deep brown grains; the dusty red of the Big Grain Truck—puny by today's semi standards; the bare grey-brown of dirt trails packed hard by heavy machinery; the clear blue of the autumn sky, the flame of prairie sunset. There are of course the less palatable harvest memories, too: clouds of fat grasshoppers whirring into your hair and down your shirt collar; the burning fumes of caraway seed; dust choking the air inside the combine cab. Even these have a certain nostalgia attached to them.

When I was very young and there was still a bustling hub of a grain elevator in my hometown, I would sometimes get to tag along when dad hauled a load to town. Sometimes my brother was also in the truck cab, and one of us would sit on an upturned 5-gallon pail between the two seats. My earliest memory is from before I began school, probably when I was taken along out of necessity on days when my mom was away at a 12-hour shift. I'm watching as wheat pours liquidly out of the truck's raised box and pools onto a grate in the floor. An elevator employee and my dad work with grain shovels to encourage the grain out of the truck and through the grate. Everything has that golden tint of prairie autumn sunshine, and shafts of light ignite the airborne grain dust.

My next earliest memories of harvest were riding along on the self-propelled swather, as my dad cut hay near the yard or long rounds around golden fields. I sat on the sunny engine-warmed flat space in back of the seat, wearing heavy-duty earmuffs, feeling more than hearing the contented whirr of the blades as they cut through the crop while the reel gently batted the cut sheaves onto the conveyor belt, spinning a golden swath that trailed behind us.

I would watch my father as he prepared and maintained the machinery each day, going over it with a grease gun, repairing conveyor belts, blowing chaff from the radiators with the air compressor. If I was lucky he would save the delicate pith ball for me. If I was luckier, I'd be able to help out in some small way.

Later, I would ride in the tractor cab as the combine gobbled up the cured swaths and the hopper filled with a bounty of grain. Sitting on the narrow window ledge in the tractor cab, my dad would sing in his clear tenor, and I would join in. Years later when I was in university and driving the swather or combine on my own, I sang those same songs that he had taught me.

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