Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Harvest Home

During the Top Shot show last night (and what a great episode), there was a trailer for a new tv series called "Harvest", which begins tomorrow. It caught my attention, not because I intend to watch it, but because it was a catalyst to an old memory. Recalling the event causes me mixed emotions, and here's why:

Farming is serious business, life-blood stuff. If a farmer's grain crop happened to survive summer hail and wind storms...and insect or rodent infestation...and mold issues...and if the weeds didn't take over, or any other myriad problems occurred, it would be ready to harvest in late fall. It wasn't like alfalfa which was harvested 3-4 times a year. This was a one-shot crop. The farmer had to watch it like a hawk and call in the combines the very moment the grains were ready, so as to prevent them from drying out and falling to the ground, an impossible harvest.

I remember one summer when the combine man (we usually had Quint Crockett do it, but you took anyone who could get there fast enough) had arrived and was hard at work. The big red combine was munching up swaths of wheat, somehow separating the heads from the stalks, storing the grain and disgorging the stalks, transforming them into straw. The straw was used for bedding warmth for the animals in winter. A beautiful day can turn into a nightmare in less than one minute flat, and that's what happened on this day.

All of a sudden, a spark from the combine lit a fire in the field across from the house. The effect was a lot like a forest fire in dry bark chippings. It goes wild in an instant. I was probably about 8 years old or so and had no clue what to do...but Dad flipped into firefighter mode instantly. I remember Mother yelling to get all the quilts and gunny sacks and soak them in water. Dad had a little pump in a nearby field, but nothing that comes close to fire-fighting capacities. We were running around like mice, and I had an awful feeling of catastrophe, but did just as I was told.

The combine man, who was no doubt experiencing his own kind of horror, was driving his machine around like a drunk driver. He was trying to harvest all he could before the fire devoured everything in sight, including himself. Keep in mind, the nearest fire department was 12 miles away, and all would have been lost before they even arrived in Clifton.

What happened next is the miraculous part. In probably less than five minutes, people arrived in cars and trucks, with loads of wet blankets, water containers, shovels, anything they could find to fight the fire. To my recollection, there were at least two other men with combines who left their own fields to come to the rescue. Even as a child, I knew this was not an ordinary happening, combines running at full speed in random directions while trying to avoid each other and the flames that were spreading in diverse directions. Men, women and children were beating the ground with blankets and gunny sacks and shovels. Some were digging up dirt and throwing it onto the flames. Some were stomping on small sections of flames with their boots. Nobody was wildly giving orders. Nobody was screaming or swearing at anybody. Nobody was just standing around. It reminded me of what it must have been like when the pioneers were besieged with the crickets and saved by the seagulls. This day all Cliftonites were seagulls.

It was the ultimate Neighborhood Watch. We had not placed one phone call. There was simply spontaneous love and caring...and preparation...and work. Set aside the fact that Dad and Mother and our group would have done exactly the same thing for others at the same speed as everyone in town did that day for us; to me this was, and remains, an experience more remarkable than all of the 7 Wonders of the World combined.

Just another day in Clifton, Idaho, home of the "Seagulls".

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