What a change in the landscape has taken place over the last several decades. On a drive through the country you might have seen corn still in the fields at this time of year. A wagon pulled by mules made its way through the rows. Workers broke the dried ears off the stalks and pitched them in the wagon bed. The corn was hauled to the corncrib from which it would be shucked as needed for feed for the livestock throughout the winter.
Another harvest method was to cut the cornstalks by hand with a long-blade corn knife and arrange them in shocks in tepee fashion. There was an art to building the shock and tying it well near the top with grass string. Otherwise, the wind would blow it over and ears lying on the ground would rot.
A field covered with tall, full corn shocks was a pretty sight. So were haystacks built around a center pole. Forkful after forkful of hay was pitched to form a conical shock whose outer layer would shed the rain runoff and preserve the hay underneath.
In recent years I’ve seen beautiful photographs and paintings whose subject was deer standing in an open field among big bales of rolled hay with woods in the background. The only place that I saw deer when I was a child was at the zoo, and hay balers that were available produced only rectangular bales.
Today’s no-till farming practices leave fields with a chopped ground cover. Rushing to get the fall plowing done so the ground can lie fallow over the winter months is not the issue that it once was.
Sage grass, not to be confused with sagebrush that grows prolifically in the western states, was plentiful. It grew in fields that were rocky and in others where the soil was not as fertile. “Covered in sage grass” was a term often used to describe poor farmland.
Plenty of patches of sage grass were on our hillside pasture field and in the barn lot. We twisted off the dry clumps and used it to line the hens’ nests in the henhouse if we couldn’t find enough finer “hen-nest” grass. We also used it to make brooms for sweeping the bare areas of ground around the back porch steps—again, not to be confused with finer quality broomcorn that was raised to make real household brooms.
Fields of sage grass were a fire hazard, as flames could sweep through acres of its blades and fuzzy heads in minutes.
Soybeans were not yet a common crop in this part of the country. If I had seen a field of soybeans growing, I would have had to ask my father, “What’s that?” Now we take this crop for granted.
Another feature of the landscape that we hardly ever see anymore is gullies. Good conservation measures have practically eliminated them. The changes in agriculture and their impact have, indeed, been dramatic over a relatively short period of time.