Rattling through the corn

The corn has been speaking in its fall dialect, which tightens my skin into autumn goosebumps.

I stopped farmyard work the other day to pause and listen to the corn’s death-rattle calling. And, though the day was unseasonably warm, the corn’s leaf-rattling still carried an October fall chill on the breeze.

The rattling conjures visions of jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treaters and frosted rooftops.

It rides the breeze hand-in-hand with comforting smells of wood fires that keep neighbors warm.

The rattling even shows the way for the sweetness of the coming harvest, when combines bend stalks to allow the stalks’ inner stalks to sprinkle their perfume into the fall air.

It calls me to the field to explore its inner sanctum.

Walking into a corn field during the fall has long been a necessity for rural kids of all ages. There’s a mystery scratched in the voices of those brittle leaves, and those mysteries must be explored.

Whether it’s been in the flat land of the Veefkind farm where I was raised or here on the Eimon Ridge, where the northern Driftless Area’s coulees continue to raise me, I’ve been counted among those rural kids who feel the calling to enter those fields.

In those fields, plenty of real work happens that goes beyond the whims of an aging fellow fulfilling some sort of primal calling. The fields are there as part of our rural livelihoods, and painstakingly long hours of toil and worry have gone into them – experiences I’ve known first-hand over the years.

Still, that whimsical side flourishes with each leaf’s rattle.

I have to go into the corn field.

In there, I’ll find a youngster riding on a wagon pulled behind an old one-row corn picker, the youngster dodging ears of corn on a late-October day while his yellow-chore-glove-wearing father looks back from the tractor with wonder about why the youngster would want to risk being knocked on the noggin by the hardened corn-cobs.

I’ll find memories of the horrifying news that a friend’s father lost part of a leg and a hand to the same brand of corn-picker that we used on our farm.

There will be shadows of dancing cornstalks cast by a combine’s headlights during a late-night session of harvesting.

In the field, I’ll discover wildlife that had become too complacent so deep within the corn’s rows – raccoons, pheasants and deer. I might even get to see a black-bear’s bed and wonder how long it’s been since the bear was nestled there.

I’ll see the tracks of farm vehicles and farmers’ feet, left in the spring-dampened soil when the corn’s journey was started – when hope was at its highest.

The corn field isn’t for everyone, of course. I know several people with aversions about those fields, those aversions growing as the corn matures. The death-rattles of leaves on brittle stalks apparently aren’t appealing to those people, and especially not at night and not as Halloween nears. I can accept that, though not fully understanding it; what some of us see as being comfort is the next person’s version of a horror movie.

To those who don’t know or don’t want to know the sense of being called into autumn corn fields, I’ll allow piles of rustling fall leaves. Jumping into a pile of leaves is itself invigorating and a joy for all ages of children. But, as wonderful as those leaves are, they don’t hold the mysteries contained in the corn.

So I’ll willingly walk through the ditch, climb through that barbed-wire fence and boldly step into the corn field that’s calling me with an autumn siren’s sensuality. As in every time I’ve done that, I have no ideas or preconceptions about what I’ll find in there.

Maybe in that corn I’ll find secrets to unlock any untapped happiness in our world.

Maybe in that corn I’ll find a needed solitude.

If there is anything about which I’m certain, it’s that I’ll find yet another needed reconnection with the soil that makes this northern Driftless Area such a spiritual place to live. It’s a connection that’s more life-giving than the oxygen I inhale on each breath.

— Scott Schultz

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