The Weather Channel warned me the other night that the harvest moon had risen. Farmers once reaped their crops by its light long ago, before Edison and Tesla. My dad combined under it, but artificial lamps guided him as well, beaming from the cab. I remember dust. Dust collected from many autumns, mixed into a single silt. We helped our dad clean the combine of past years’ harvest, as he prepared it for work. The detritus was sweet and rancid. It fell out in thick clumps as I scraped the complex machine’s many nooks with a screwdriver.
I rode with my dad when I was young, as he followed the parallel rows he planted the previous spring. The green corn and beans were now tan and brittle. One time as we traveled down the road from one field to another, a front tire fell off the first combine I remember us owning. A woman saw us and picked us up, drove us home. After that, my dad and grandpa bought a new combine, which sat for most of the year in the southwest corner of the machine shed, in that Morton building’s eerie blue-green light.
West of our house stood a grain dryer, which accepted the seeds. It hummed to us every fall. Even after we moved from my original home, whenever I visited my grandparents Gerald and Denise Selby in fall, I could hear the white noise of that grain dryer. It was comforting. It makes me think now of the static still present from the Big Bang—a placid thought of origination, of planets being born in nebula light years wide. According to NASA’s website, “[This] cosmic microwave background blankets the universe and is responsible for a sizeable amount of static on your television set—well, before the days of cable. Turn your television to an ‘in between’ channel, and part of the static you’ll see is the afterglow of the Big Bang.”
So when I hear a grain dryer, the end gets mixed up with the beginning, and it’s all one fine silt. The end of the year, the harvest, combines with the beginning of life. It’s a beautiful sound.
Before the internet reminded me of the phase of the moon, that the harvest was ready—right after sundown—my wife, my mom, my sons and I were walking down our driveway. We heard a faint roar, like a car was coming up the lane. Instead, very low overhead, a B-2 stealth bomber passed directly over our farm. Its right angles were unmistakable against the evening sky. It’s already old technology. The first publicly televised flight was almost 25 years ago. But I had never seen one in person, so it was something. I had never seen a two billion dollar airplane above me. I suggested to Jennifer that they were now using the B-2 to take those aerial photographs. Not spy photos, but the ones they later sell to you to hang on your wall.
Then it was gone, off into night and Missouri. For some reason it made me think of a passage from Ecclesiastes, that the past still exists, and the future has already happened.
It made me think of Göbekli Tepe, the archaeological site in Turkey built around 12,000 years ago during the Ice Age. People were not even supposed to have invented the wheel by that time, yet the hunter-gatherers of present day Anatolia erected enormous T-shaped stone pillars and carved animals upon them, as well as humans without facial features—their concept of the gods. The discovery of this site showed us that religion brought civilization into order, gave birth to it and originally brought us together. As excavator Klaus Schmidt puts it, “First came the temple, then the city."
Yet not only were there no cities, there were no farms. At least not in the way we currently conceive of them.
It’s been a while since my dad has combined. He has a number of maladies related to Agent Orange, and has been forced to retire from work. My grandpa farmed into his eighties, and I know it is difficult on my dad not to be able to do what he loves. The bomber that flew over us also made me think of C-123s spraying jungle, and poisoning someone else’s farmland—it’s easier when they’re of a different race—and getting in over our heads. It reminded me that the same things that brought us together could later push us apart.