Driving across Kansas is always an exercise in both endurance and a willingness to see beauty where most simply see miles of flatlands to endure until the first view of the mountains of Colorado. I love coming out to see my family during wheat harvest season. We are still about 10 days away from firing the combines up in Norton County, but the harvest was in full swing along the south side of I-70 from Russell through Hays and on to Wakeeny where I turn north toward Norton. The winds were blowing hot, the dust was fogging, and the literal breadbasket of America is again producing the grain that helps feed the world.
Growing up on the farm, when I reached driving age, I drove a wheat truck back and forth from the fields to the Almena grain elevator, as my dad drove the combine, and my mom the tractor with the grain cart. It was about a 12-15 mile trip one way, usually sitting in line with other farm trucks, and then backing up to the grain pit and engaging the hoist to slowly lift the truck box to empty the grain. My dad insisted on me tarping the box EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. A single grain lost was not being a good steward of the crop. The summer I had shoulder surgery for a basketball injury, my uncle who was also my orthopedic surgeon, said climbing up and down the side of the truck to tarp and untarp the truck box was the best physical therapy I could have had, and much cheaper than hospital rehab. I didn’t find that a helpful perspective.
The first summer I drove a truck, the nice, older guys at the elevator who knew my dad and every farmer in the area, suggested I let them get in MY truck in order to back it up correctly to the dump pit. REALLY?!? Because clearly a 15 year old GIRL could not back a truck precisely enough. Can you guess what I said? I wiped the sweat off my face with the back of my arm (it’s what all farmers did), looked them right in the eye, spit (I had a mouthful of Double Bubble rather than the “chew” the guys had), and told them to get out of my way. Thank you Jesus I backed up to the pit perfectly the first time. The elevator guy pushed his hat back on his head, scratched his forehead, sauntered up to the cab smiling, and shared he wouldn’t make that suggestion again. I smiled.
From the farm I learned how to work. I learned that it takes a team to most effectively finish a job. I learned about the faith it takes to plant seeds in the ground in the late fall, trust the cold and snow-filled days of winter, anticipate the rains and the sun coming in the spring as the seeds begin to sprout, and pray for the green-tinged hail thunderclouds of mid-summer to stay away until harvest was complete. I learned the joy of celebrating when the 2-3 weeks of harvest were complete, and the grain was stored safely in bins. And I learned that when a neighbor fell ill or experienced a life-altering accident, every single farm family in the area stopped their own work and came together to gather in the harvest, provide enough food for the family for months, donated financial resources, and did it all without saying a word or expecting anything in return.
Most if not all of the lessons you learn from the farm are learned without words. Farmers aren’t much for talking about feelings, motivation, generosity, or why they do what they do. Maybe that’s why I ended up leaving the farm, words are kind of a big deal to me. Every time I go back, most especially this time of year, I am reminded that the fabric of our shared histories creates the story of who we are as a community and that finally, we all are connected – farm to city, individual to community, east to west and back again.
So if you’re headed to Colorado this summer, the miles west of Salina to Limon may still be an exercise of endurance, but in the midst of that exercise, maybe look north at Wakeeny, give a little wave and a smile, push your hat back, scratch your forehead, spit (roll down the window first) and smile in the knowledge that somehow we all are family!