Many years ago, in a different professional existence, I did a phone interview with a woman in New York City. When we were finished, she said, "I've never talked with anyone from North Dakota before. What are the winters like?"
For a few moments I was sorely tempted to concoct some bogus exaggeration, but of course I stuck with the truth. "Well," I said, "winters can be rough. But the rest of the year is usually really nice."
I think of that long-ago conversation as we reach mid-summer. It's a difficult time for Upper Midwest agriculturalists: too dry for some, too wet for some, poor commodity prices for everyone. And hovering above it all, like a malevolent wraith, is the COVID-19 pandemic. A veteran farmer recently told me this is "a crazy summer." What he meant, but was too positive to say directly, was that it's a tough summer.
Even so, mid-summer brings many small satisfactions. Sure, the primary goal of agriculturalists is to support themselves and their family; it itself that's good and sufficient motivation. And honest, productive work, in or out of ag, deserves respect., and receives it from me.
But most of us in ag find other reasons. based on the season or in nature or both, to take pleasure from it. "Bucolic," a great word that's rarely used anymore, refers to the pleasant aspects of the countryside and country life. "Pastoralist," another great but rarely used word, refers, among other things, to folks who celebrate open spaces with few people and buildings.
Yes, the Upper Midwest can be bucolic in midsummer. Yes, like many Agweek readers, I'm a pastoralist.
Spring and fall bring pleasures, too -- I'm not so sure about winter -- and I personally prefer them to summer. But there are things I definitely enjoy about midsummer. They don't occur every year, of course, which makes me appreciate them even more when they do. Here are a few of them:
The great murmurous buzz of bees in clover.
Soybeans forming new pods.
Green wheat swaying in the breeze.
Amber wheat glittering in the sunlight.
Canola in bloom, a sea of vivid yellow.
Sunflowers tilting toward the sun.
Hay bales emerging from the baler.
Needed rain falling gently in the night. (Needed rain in the day is mighty fine, too.)
Cows patiently nursing rambunctious calves.
Livestock grazing contentedly in pastures.
Driving a dusty old pickup over bumpy dirt roads to look at crops and pastures.
Hands stained purple from picking wild chokecherries or juneberries.
Most Upper Midwest agriculturalists share my fondness for at least a few of those things, especially gentle rain when it's needed. Please, drop me a line and let me know what you like most about the season.
This is a crazy summer, a rough summer, for area agriculturalists. Many of you, understandably, can't wait for it to end. But don't allow uncooperative weather, poor prices and the pandemic to rob you, my fellow pastoralists, of the bucolic pleasures that midsummer can bring. Remember them. Make time for them. Enjoy them.