I return each autumn to Iowa, to my parents' farm. I cannot miss its transformation. The air turns brisk. Field after field becomes barren. Black ground appears for the first time in three months. And I get to do what I love most in the fall: ride the combine at night.
To have never combined underneath the stars is like never having attended a musical or a ballet. The night combine lures me - a farmer's daughter living in New York City - into a once-a-year performance. It not only pulls me into an enchanting nocturnal realm, it twists me back into my preferred world of farming.
I look forward to saying "hey" to people I've always known when I bump into them at the Chrome cafe; to catching talk about yields, moisture content, and prices; and even to taking guff from my neighbor Dean about my seeming-destined spinsterhood.
When I was 4 or 5, my mother would drive me out to the field where Dean was combining. I'd crawl up the ladder of the snubbed-nose tractor with its mammoth fork tines - the snoot - jutting out in front. Like tusks of an elephant, I had thought. All afternoon I rode with him, round after round in the sea of straggly stalks.
Only a few years ago did I venture for the first time on a combine at night. I never thought to do so when I lived at home, but, as I was no longer surrounded by space, views 10 miles deep, and pragmatic farmers, I wanted to.
I wanted to capture what I hadn't known, take part again in a ritual that set the small group of farmers apart from everyone else. Harvesters of the world's food. While I was home from the city for a visit, my mother and father dropped me off at the edge of one of their cornfields, and I waited for Marv. Retired from a seed-corn company, he ran a combine in the fall - a part-time job he loved.