Don't panic: the falling leaves and the shortening days we're currently experiencing aren't the result of global warming, nor do they a portend the approach of a planet-shattering comet. These things simply signify the autumnal equinox.
It's been purported that at high noon on the day of the autumnal equinox the alignment of the earth and the sun makes it possible to balance an egg on its end. I once wasted half a day testing this theory and found it to be totally true. But it only worked if I boiled the egg first. And then firmly smushed one end of the egg against the tabletop.
Fall is the favorite time of year for many farmers. This is because autumn is their big payday, the season when they (hopefully) collect on that humungous bet they made last spring.
Farming is like going to a casino and plunking a wad of cash - most likely more than you can afford to lose - onto the red or the black. The wheel is spun and the little ball is sent on its spiraling orbit. And you wait. And worry. And wait and worry some more. Finally, the ball sputters against the wheel, kicks into the air and settles into a slot. Did you win? Or will you slink home empty-handed?
At least that's how I felt when I farmed. My goal each fall was to come away from the table with enough to try again next spring.
Farming is a fickle undertaking. We want enough moisture but not too much. We need warm weather in the summer but hope it doesn't get too hot in July. And don't get us started about a late or an early frost!
Yes, farming is very similar to baking an angel food cake from scratch. Except if a cake flops, the event generally doesn't engender mass quantities of financial distress.
During the course of my life, the equipment utilized to complete fall harvest has changed immensely.
When I was a young whippersnapper, picking corn on the ear was considered state-of-the art. This involved sitting out in the open on a cabless tractor while pulling a clattery, rattling corn picker to and fro across the field. When the weather turned cold you became cold; if it began to snow you were snowed upon. If you could afford it, you might install a thing called a "comfort cover" on your tractor, but that would only mark you as effete and limp-wristed.
Compare that to today. Modern combines' cabs have more creature comforts than the Taj Mahal. It's gotten to the point where combine cabs could almost be classified as mobile man caves.
One late summer many moons ago, I was cleaning out a grain bin in preparation for the autumn harvest. Three young boys - our two sons and their slightly older cousin - insisted that they accompany me in order to "help."
But their idea of "helping" involved playing tag in and running through the shallow grain. A game of hide-and-seek sprang up, but there was a decided lack of hiding places in the mostly-empty bin.
The boys then began to throw corn at each other. I ordered them to cease and desist as this could lead to injury. That command had scarcely left my lips when the youngest boy began to squall.
A kernel of corn had become lodged in his ear. His first instinct was to dig it out with his finger, but this only pushed the corn even deeper into the auditory canal.
I examined the whimpering child's ear and could barely discern the very end of the kernel. Racking my brain for a way to safely extract the corn from his ear, I was suddenly struck by an epiphany.
I told the lad that we could simply water the kernel regularly and wait. In a few days it would sprout; after perhaps only a few weeks, the corn would have grown tall enough allow for easy removal.
The child was almost convinced that this would be a good plan. But then his smarty-pants older cousin spoiled things by describing the tentacle-like nature of corn roots and their likely effects on the nearby brain.
So I took the boy to see Dr. Saxena, and the good doctor used a special extractor gizmo to swiftly and safely remove the kernel. He then advised us to soothe the affected ear by dosing it with a drop of warm corn oil.
I was going to point out that he had just removed a source of corn oil. But I was just glad that Dr. Saxena had been able to complete this particular ear corn harvest.