The winter wheat harvest is hitting its stride in the Heartland. “For amber waves of grain” is more than a pretty lyric in a beautiful song at the moment. Within a week or so the winter wheat harvest will grind farther north and leave Heartland fields idle or set for a double crop such as soybean. Either way, time passes and the next part of the story stands ready to be written.
Not all wheats are the same. There is hard red winter wheat – the darling of the Great Plains, and the consummate bread wheat. There is soft red winter wheat, top among the wheats east of the Mississippi – used in pastries and crackers. There are Durum wheats for noodles, and white wheats for different bread products. Bob’s Red Mill gives a nice description of the difference between Hard Red and Hard White wheats for those curious enough to follow up. There is Soft White as well. Why waste a potential category?
Time passes and the next part of the story is anxious. For some of us the story, like the 2017 Heartland wheat harvest, is quickly winding down. Last fall – early November to be precise – a farmer in Western Illinois passed. On the one hand this is not particularly earth shattering news. But this particular farmer was my spouse’s eldest brother. John was only 64, and while one could argue he lived a full life, I will argue he could have made the planet a better place for a good while longer. But the fact remains, his chapter is quickly closing.
The photograph here shows a ripening field of winter wheat in Mercer County Illinois. This was one of the last fields John planted during his tenure as the steward of these fields. It will be harvested by someone else. Just a few miles west of this bucolic scene John lies at rest – his labors complete.
I met John in the Spring of ’78. I’d been dating his kid sister for a while and it seemed time to head out to the country to meet the man. He would have been in his mid-twenties then. He too was single at the time, though there was a young lady he was smitten with. A little over a year later he and Kay married just a month before my wife and me. They raised a boy and two girls, we a girl and two boys. Some symmetries in life are worth noticing I suppose.
And just like winter wheats, there are all sorts of farmers. Some are hard and some are soft. In John’s case it was hard not to notice how soft a soul he was. The notion of ‘better angels’ seems to fit quite well.