blue bellied clouds fringed
with rain falling on dry fields
ready for harvest
Two days past the autumn equinox. It's been so dry all summer that some of the fields are ready for harvest early. Last evening I could hear the low roar of a combine in the cornfield to the east. In the morning the field lies shorn. Cold mist swaddles the swales, coating everything with heavy dew. By noon, a patchwork of blue-bellied cumulus clouds covers the sky.
I get out of the pickup truck on a gravel road between cornfields leading to a farm. The pale husks, spotted and streaked with mildew, are pulling away from the ears, which are beginning to drop down on the dark red stalks. The dull brown dirt between the rows is dry and barren. Nothing but corn grows in this soil laced with pesticides and herbicides, except a few gray grasshoppers with yellow wings and one bristling green burr in the row at the edge of the field. Close to the farmhouse a wide swath has been combined, perhaps a test strip to determine the moisture content of the corn, which has to be dry before harvesting. The ground is littered with chopped stalks, shredded leaves, splayed husks, broken brick-red cobs and a few golden yellow kernels. Walking into the field, I am exposing myself to the chemical brew, but our meadow borders a field -- corn one year, soybeans the next -- and when the wind blows toward the house, we inhale toxins.
In the evening I stop again at the same spot to watch the sunset. In the west the clouds have turned dark blue with a slanting fringe of rain falling through deep pink sky on the horizon. One of the clouds looks like a giant shark with a gaping mouth full of needle sharp teeth about to swallow some small sea creature. While I'm watching the sky show, the farmer turns in, stops and rolls down his window. "It's beautiful," I say, to explain what I'm doing parked on his road. "The cornfield, the clouds, the sunset." He smiles and nods, then asks me where I live, by way of establishing who I am. Since I'm a near neighbor, all is well. I ask him how the harvest is going. "I was going to do the field by the house tomorrow, but it's too wet."
Just down the road, a combine is working a field of soybeans. The green and yellow John Deere looks like some kind of gigantic insect with its wide rack of conical teeth combing through the rows. In the dusk, with lights flashing and huge knobby tires kicking up a stream of dust in the dry field, the driver hurries to beat the downpour.