Archives

Those Not Around the Table

The scarlet and gold promise of mid-harvest has slipped into the gray, damp reality of early winter. Last month we smiled at sun-kissed crops; this month we smile when we see the sun.
On the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth, November was a month more endured than enjoyed. Its most memorable features were muddy […]

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Cat’s Feet

The early morning fog, like poet Carl Sandburg once noted, arrived on cat’s feet and remains, napping, on the lake until a warming sun causes it to slip away the way it came, in silence.
Fifty years ago I watched the September fog while waiting for the morning school bus on the southern Illinois dairy farm […]

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Dew Point

The sun’s steady rise slowly spreads its gathering light on the morning dew until the lawn dances with sparkles and the day with possibilities.
The July dew, soaking wet and glistening bright, almost always promised a day of sunshine, heat, and humidity on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth. Jackie, the farm’s main field […]

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Ag’s Greatest Innovation

In my youth, May brought two noticeable changes to the big Lutheran church my family faithfully attended. The first was heat. No building on earth better held daytime heat from Mother’s Day through Reformation Day than that century-old house of worship.
The second was the season’s short-sleeved parade of lost limbs, a brutal testament to the […]

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The Auctioneer’s Song

For someone who rarely attended auctions, my father somehow managed to host or co-host four different auctions in the last 20 or so years of his long life. Is that a record of some kind?
The first, held in the mid-1990s, was a dispersal sale for the 100 or so Holstein cows, heifers, and calves that […]

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Winter’s Workings

January started gray, stayed gray, and ended gray. Worse, it wasn’t a shining silver gray or an inviting blue gray. It was the flat, disengaging gray of used dishwater that seemed to whisper, “Don’t bother.”
The one-colored weather wasn’t cold weather, though. Early in the month, a few days of Arctic temperatures did thicken the lake […]

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Howard’s Priceless Gift of Simple Giving

Originally written on December 25, 1994, this column is now reprinted annually by Alan’s editors across the country to celebrate the season of giving.
The Christmas tree was a scrub cedar hacked from the edge of the woods that bordered our farm. Big-bulbed lights, strung in barber pole fashion, generated almost as much heat as the nearby woodstove. Yellowed […]

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Life in the Slow Lane

September arrived on a bright, beautiful sunbeam after one of the soggiest Augusts central Illinois ever muddled through.
The wet month was a quiet month, though. Not even the ever-cheerful wrens could find anything to sing about during the monsoon. One bird-based benefit, however, was that our lake’s always honked-off Canada geese moved on to, I […]

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Like a Good Neighbor

It’s hard to think of summer without thinking of the many neighbors we shared the southern Illinois heat, humidity, and mosquitoes with on the dairy farm of my youth.
Back then, in the mid-1960s, we’d often see neighbors across the table-flat Mississippi River Bottoms as they cultivated corn or soybeans and we baled straw or raked […]

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My Best Friend

On a sparkling blue Friday afternoon in October 1965, I stepped off a noisy school bus with my best friend, Marvin, to walk the long lane to his family’s farm. It was my first, non-family trip anywhere and I was so excited to go to Marvin’s house for the weekend that I doubt my feet […]

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