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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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The Quiet Month

January was a quiet month on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth. Maybe it was quiet because we were quiet, drained after December’s month-long buildup to Christmas and New Year’s. Maybe it was quiet because most of our farm machines, like all of our fields, were quiet.
Whatever the reason, January still brought 100 […]

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Thanksgiving Choices

The gray dullness of November finally made it to Illinois a couple of weeks late.
The morning of its arrival began like almost every morning since Labor Day, warm and with a breeze. By noon, however, a sharp wind was blowing from the east and the low groan of thunder promised both a rain and a […]

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Out to Pasture

No July passes without baseball’s All-Star game and no All-Star game passes without most middle-aged farmboys recalling childhood dreams of playing professional baseball. That’s what we did two generations ago: we played baseball in daylight, we listened to baseball in twilight, we dreamt baseball at night.
My baseball dreams reflected my southern Illinois roots. I was […]

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