Wednesday, November 9, 2011

His Harvest

You know when you have experiences throughout the day, small or significant, that end up dancing across your dreams later that night?

This happens to me a lot.

One afternoon I’m minding my own business at the grocery and see a high school friend with her three kids. Next thing you know I’m tangled in my sheets trying to wake up from a bad dream where that same high school friend asks me to cover her Wal-Mart tab and babysit her kids for the afternoon.

A nightmare, really.

Recently I rode in the combine with a local farmer as he chugged his way through harvest.  I had plenty of questions about the numbers on the screen and reason why he used a certain lever and which buttons meant what. I asked why certain corn was positioned one way. We talked about root structure. I asked what moisture does to bounty.

I interact daily with grain farmers; it’s kind of important to know these things.

I sat for a few hours in that brand new combine, watching the stalks being gathered and completely absorbed by the head.
I thought about the engineers who developed this technology and how different harvest was 100 years ago; what progress.
I thought about how comfortable I was, in a heated cab, watching yields increase and bunnies flee in fear away from the machinery.
I thought about time.
I thought about change.

I thought a lot about my Granddad.

“You know,” I said, breaking the brief silence between the local farmer and I. “ I ask a lot of questions. But I sure wish my Granddad could sit here, if only for an hour, and just take this all in. He’d love it. And he’d ask some pretty good questions, I just know.”


That night I had an unforgettable dream. The kind where you write down every single detail that you’re able to recall as soon as you wake up at 2:17 a.m.

The kind that you’re never ready to wake up from.

It was Granddad and I; he behind the wheel, me in the buddy seat. We talked like he had never left; we talked like we both knew this was a very temporary encounter.

As the bright headlights of the combine cut down the rows of standing corn like lasers, I asked Granddad why some of the corn was broken off half way up the stalk, and why some still stood tall with tassels.

“As with any anything, that starts at the bottom - the root,” he said.

“These stalks have to have a strong root system, one that not only grows strong, but also one that covers a lot of ground. Because when that wind blows, and trust me it will, something has to keep it grounded,” he said as he adjusted the speed of the machine.

“Somedays this corn reminds me of raising a family. If you don’t put the right things in at the beginning, you’re not going to get much in the end. If you don’t do things to make it right early, they can break. Stalks break, I mean. People, too. Character. ”

“It’s also important that the root doesn’t necessarily grow directly down; if it does that, it won’t gain the nutrients that are applied to the top couple inches of soil,” he followed up, bringing the conversation back to agronomy, rather than family.

I watched Granddad’s boots sit tightly at the base of the steering wheel. I recognized those old worn out boots quite well. While we rode in that combine, they were sitting in my office at home.

“Ohhhh,” I said. “Kind of like those roots you and I talked about just before I left for Washington, DC? I’ll never forget that. You told me to go chase that dream, but I better not dare forget where I came from. That talk kind of gave me the final guts to leave. Your words told me I could always come home.”

“Right. You want solid roots, but not ones that are so hell bent on growing straight down that the plant won’t completely thrive the way it should,” he reminded me.

We sat in silence as he came to the end of the row and turned the combine around. Before I knew it we were back to running the corn that had lost half of it’s height.

Then Granddad and I started drinking chocolate milkshakes. I don’t know how, but I didn’t question it.

“But that can’t be all it is. I mean, I know the roots are totally important, but that isn’t all there is, right?” I continued.

“Well, no. Soil is important. You have to have something good to plant that seed into. We’ll come across a bare patch up here where nothing came of the land. No yield at all.”

He was right; amidst productive corn was a large area with nothing at all. Not a stalk emerging from the ground. Not a root to be spoken of.

“It’s disappointing, those places. Where there is room for something good, but nothing ever develops. It’s a waste really. Not many things that bother me more than unreached potential. A solid loss.”

I looked straight ahead. It was one of those moments where I know Granddad was talking about more than the cornfield that was ahead of us.

I looked at Granddad’s hands, holding that wheel. They looked so much better than the last time I studied them.  I looked over at him. He was so engrossed in the task ahead: His Life's Harvest, years after his death.

And then I woke up.

I woke up after studying the hands that helped build me. After having a conversation that I needed to have, but never had the chance before he left.  I jumped out of bed, walked into my office and got my leather bound notebook. I scribbled as fast as I could. I turned to put the paper down, but not before looking at the boots.

I had to smile. Those boots certainly were made for talking.

Long after I thought their work was done.


  1. Thank you for sharing such a memorable experience. The way you tell stories makes me feel as I was there in the middle of it. What a great dream to have and what a great lesson to learn.

  2. Beautiful story! Made me think of the time I wish I could have spent with my grandparents. Grandpa would be so interested in my job!
    thank you for sharing your gift of writing with the world, you are great at it!

  3. This is amazing! I have had dreams with important people who have passed. I can vividly recall the conversations that i dreamt, but never actually had. I truly believe that it is a way for our loved ones to tell us or teach us just a few more things that weren't said when they were physically with us. I always wake from those dreams with a warm heart and a few moments of calm and peace. I hope you do too...

  4. Okay, someone pass me a tissue, please! Lindsay, this is just beautiful. Just beautiful.

  5. I am reading this post, waiting for my latte, tears welling up in my eyes. I thank rdixon for introducing me to your blog, and you for telling wonderful stories. The best to you in 2012!