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AUTUMN'S APPROACH PLANTS SEEDS OF HOPE

You look away for a moment, and what do you know, it's September, summer's back door. I don't think we should mourn the passing of this season, which has parched both farms and farmers, but turning any corner of the year, usually brings on some reflection.

One thing that I'm glad has passed with the season is hay-hauling. We had 108 round bales made at a friend's farm 10 miles away. Getting the thousand-pounders home took the better part of a week and a couple of borrowed heavy-duty wagons. Most of the way was over gravel roads, at 15 miles an hour, with myself on the tractor pulling 12, followed by Kathleen in the truck pulling nine. Our own hay parade.

For the last few loads I found myself singing "A hundred eight bales of hay in the field, a hundred eight bales of hay . . .." The town should be glad that the tractor drowned me out.

We hauled chickens to the butcher Saturday night, and stopped in town to get a quart of oil. I instructed my teen-aged son to chase down any birds that flew out of the truck, and was answered by that "Heh, heh, heh." which means "I think Dad's kidding, but I'm not sure."

He reminded me of the teen-ager in Roger Pond's hilarious book "It's Hard to Look Cool When Your Car's Full of Sheep." For it's absolutely impossible to look cool sitting in your father's rattly, 20-year old truck full of Cornish cross chickens. As I always remind my son, such moments build character. Luckily no birds escaped; that would have given us more character than we needed.

Last week we were treated to a visit by Kathleen's two sisters and her niece. Maddie is 4 and enjoyed her first visit to the farm immensely. The cows, which must look like dinosaurs to such a small person, impressed her enough to announce that she planned to be a cow when she grew up. She liked the chickens, too, and quickly perfected a rousing rooster call.

We taught her to play "Stone School," where the contestants move up a step on stairs every time they successfully guess which hand a pebble is concealed in. Maddie was stone school champ and picked up a bean-sized stone from the driveway when she was leaving on her way back to New Jersey. We haven't had any little kids at the farm for a while. They sure are fun.

We had a welcomed call tonight from Diane, announcing the date of the second annual Pumpkin Contest Picnic. We paid our $5 entrance fee last spring and hoped to do better than the 50-pounder we produced the previous year. But somehow in the rush of spring I forgot to plant a single hill.

Then I discovered a pumpkin growing wild in a weedy end of the sweet corn patch. I asked Diane if I could enter our modest pumpkin in the "Nonirrigated Division." I used Labor Day morning to labor in the garden. I pulled a half bag of small onions and hung it in the cellar way, not much, but something. The snap bean vines have gone yellow, and I pulled them and strew them on the hay in the barn to finish drying. By Christmas they'll be ready to shell and store for next season's garden effort.

The last two arid summers have not been good growing seasons, but as I pitchforked the vines up into the loft, I found myself thinking of these beans germinating in the warm rains of next May. I guess it's hard to think about a seed without seeing it sprouting. Even in the dust, faith is always whispering.

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