Forage-chopping through the seasons

That speck of red on a maple tree along the edge of the woods across the cornfield across the road.

The realization that much of the sumac along roads had eased from their life-giving green to bleeding red.

Children settling into classes and activities at our rural schools, the school-year’s newness already forgotten.

Those are among more of the subtle changes we notice this time of year in the northern Driftless Area. They remind us that the calendar has again changed and that autumn approaches, despite any signs that summer’s dog days still whine.

Another sign of the changing season hummed its music through our rural countryside the other day, though – the tunes of a forage chopper making its way through a neighbor’s tall corn. That sound and all the uniqueness rattling with it through corn-stalks’ leaves, finalize any debates old dairy-farm kids might have about the seasons.

I’d listened to it the other day, thinking the Lundbergs or Goplins over on Huskelhus Road might be collecting some silage from their fields. My suspicions were confirmed that night when I saw social media photographs of the ongoing work.

The sounds of those forage choppers going through corn haven’t changed much over the years, their music easily identified as it flows across our ridges and valleys. The same notes have played on old single-row choppers pulled by 50-horsepower tractors just as they play on modern self-propelled choppers of hundreds of horsepower gulping and digesting many rows in a single pass.

That one-man band’s playing within forage choppers is similar in most seasons, whether it’s strumming through alfalfa, clover, straw or corn. But take a few steps closer to the choppers moving through the corn, and you know an entirely new set of percussion instruments – cymbals, snare drums and even kettle drums.

Hay and straw move through forage choppers with a certain smoothness and near-whistling. Corn, destined for silage, moves through with wild and passionate anger and excitement, banging, clanging and spitting. Hay and straw are smoothly played cellos and corn silage is a head-banging percussionist’s drum-set.

The sound is carried to other areas of the harvesting farms, too. The knocking and rattling is apparent as the freshly chopped corn falls from wagons’ and trucks’ heights to rumble through chains and augers setting it onto its storage destination. And, the most special sounds come from forage blowers used to blast the silage into upright silos, that missing a bit from those farms that store it in sausage bags or piled into bunker silos. Folks who’ve unloaded corn into blowers know the sound can be noisy warnings that bits of stinging corn cobs might be peppered toward unsuspecting bystanders.

I looked back at the photographs the neighbor posted about her farm’s corn-silage harvest and commented about hearing those distinct sounds.

Her short and effective reply: “And the smells!”

That three-word reply took me across many years of cornfields, harvesting equipment and silos. As my mind traveled on those words, I understood how certain things are the same wherever we go.

The same sounds.

The same honey-sweetness dripping from the corn and its stalks.

The same pungent earthiness beneath the equipment.

The same clean fields of stubble left for tillage and the next planting.

Those are things that link us all hand-in-hand from the bottom of this region to its top and to areas far beyond.

They’re things that carry my spirit from the place of flatter land where I was raised all the way to my rebirth on the old Eimon Homestead.

They’re things that have stayed with me around the world and sustained me through times pleasant and less-than-pleasant.

And now, they’re the things that work with the colors to help greet the coming season.

The time for chopping corn silage might not last as long as it did a few years ago in dairy-farming country such as ours, newer techniques and technologies making the introduction of combine’s arrival in corn fields more quickly and more often than ever. But, for some of us old farm kids – and even for some younger farm kids – it forever will play an important role in the season’s transition.

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