Driving in late August from Spokane to our Heyburn State Park cabin in Plummer, then down to Moscow, Idaho, I was struck once again by the incredible beauty of the Inland Northwest during harvest time.
My wife and I passed by harvested fields of soft and hard wheat, peas and lentils, garbanzo beans and canola, oats, barley and timothy hay. At least I think that’s what we saw. We appreciate it when there are signs identifying the crops.
We didn’t need any sign to identify the gorgeous fields of sunflowers on Elder Road that runs between Washington and Idaho.
We are thankful for the farms and farmers that create such beautiful landscapes while feeding us and the world. We praise the farmers who share their produce with international food aid programs. And we praise the conservative and liberal legislators who join in supporting these programs.
We are also thankful for those who cultivate farms and orchards we don’t see, who bring to our farmers’ markets a wonderful variety of fruits and vegetables. A special shout out to the Royal City family who in late summer bring us in Moscow, Idaho, their amazing variety of peppers (amid melons, eggplant, peaches, etc.) and to the Vietnamese American family of Newman Lake who grace us with bok choy, sweet corn and dazzling flowers.
I was amazed by the generosity of these families and others at our farmer’s market. They donated box-loads of their produce to local food banks during our Latah County Human Rights Task Force’s food drive. And there’s the beekeeping honey maker from Deary who tossed in jars of his sweet work, and blessed us while doing so!
Our own harvest is pretty meager, save for snow peas in June and garlic in late July. I call my wife the Garlic Queen of the Palouse. She plants rows of cloves of garlic with exotic names like German Porcelain and Tai Purple. If I water them enough, they grow into hefty bulbs. Right now these bulbs are hanging from our basement clothesline to dry out.
During harvest time we may not only gather in crops, but also our thoughts – perhaps of the passing beauty of the world, perhaps of our passing through this world. I think the loveliest and most poignant gathering of harvest-time thoughts is offered by John Keats in “To Autumn” (1820), written the year before his death at age 25.
For Keats, Autumn is the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” conspiring with “the maturing sun” to “ load and bless / With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; / To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees, / And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core.”
We are prompted to think of Keats’ ripeness, and of ours.
Keats also prompts us to listen to autumn’s evening music: “While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, / And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue; / Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn / Among the river shallows … . / And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; / Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft / The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft; / And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.”
The “now” of Keats’ harvest time is of course distinctly English. Perhaps in our harvest-time “now,” lambs bleat from county fairgrounds.
What’s important is to be in the “now.” For those of us in the harvest time of our lives, this might mean that we consider how best to use our talents during our remaining seasons.
We would do well to follow Pete Haug’s example presented in his Aug. 9 FāVS column, “The Unbearable Brightness of Seeing. And Then not.” Pete, contemplating his failing eyesight, finds encouragement in how the blind John Milton used his talent.
I am, in turn, encouraged by Pete’s unfailing care for those around him, for the peoples of the world and for this earth.
Would that we all would cultivate this harvest-time talent.
Walter Hesford was a professor of English at the University of Idaho, where he taught American Literature, World Literature and the Bible as Literature. He currently coordinates an interfaith discussion group, and is a member of the Latah County Human Rights Task Force and Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Moscow.
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