By Marianne Friers
It’s as if the whole valley is being given a haircut by dozens of sets of giant clippers. Corn choppers of all sizes and shapes are taking off the crop. Conveyances ranging from gigantic trucks to little wooden farm wagons are hauling it to storage.
It wasn’t easy this spring for area farmers to get the ground worked up and planted so many acres remained idle. However the corn that did grow, and some of it is very nice, is being harvested at a great rate these days.
In a short drive looking for pheasants to count for eBird, we passed a self-propelled chopper racing down a hill, cutting corn into dump trucks and wagons pulled by tractors, carving corn off the field faster than a barber shaving Marine recruits. It was something to see. Not more than a couple of miles down the road we passed a couple of Amish farmers hooking a pair of Belgians up to some sort of harvester. Yet another short distance beyond, we spotted still another method of getting in the corn.
This one was a motor-driven chopper head that could be pulled through the field by a team of horses, such as the ones we had seen being hooked up earlier. The big self-propelled machine was taking in several rows at a time, while this one could only gather one.
However, whatever the speed of the harvest of the corn, the goal was surely the same. Get the feed in and piled or ensiled or stashed away in whatever manner the farmer chose before the weather goes south along with the migrating birds.
I don’t blame them a bit either. The first White-throated Sparrow showed up here on the farm on the 29th of September. It was hanging around with a bunch of Song Sparrows in a dead Box Elder tree, which was blown down in an early summer windstorm. Ever since that tree bit the dust it has been a favorite sunning perch for half a dozen sorts of birds. I was surprised to see one of the northern sparrows back so early though. The very next day, a White-crowned Sparrow arrived to join him and more White-throated Sparrows began singing from the fields and hedgerows.
They seem downright early. Despite our recent summer-in-autumn, all the signs are there to indicate that the dark season is coming and soon. Staghorn Sumac and Virginia Creeper seem to have beaten the Sugar Maples in the race to turn the darkest shade of raspberry before they give up for the winter.
Our boy took me on a ride up west, with a short trip around the wildlife drive at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge included on the itinerary. One thing that stood out about the whole drive was that in towns and along country roads, all the way to Steuben County and back, this fall’s mast crop was much in evidence. No matter where we went, it was easy to pick out the hickory trees by the incredible number of nuts underneath. There wasn’t just a scattering here or a smattering there. There were thousands upon thousands of nuts everywhere we went.
Our black walnut trees are the same. Grey squirrels started harvesting the nuts over a month ago, but the trees are still full of fat, green spheres. I am sure glad I don’t have to walk underneath them.
Have you noticed the cones on the spruces and pines? Some of the trees I’ve seen are so burdened at the top by cones that they look as if they have gigantic hats up there. Maybe they are worried about getting haircuts like the corn.
And samaras, what a year for them. I am sure you remember samaras from your backyard or the playground when you were a kid. You no doubt had another name for them, but samaras are the winged fruit of members of the maple family. We had a lot of fun tossing the ones from sugar and silver maples up in the air and watching them twirl and whirl to the ground. Back when the county annex building was the elementary school, the maples there provided me and my classmates not only samaras to toss, but plenty of leaves with which to delineate imaginary rooms in imaginary houses, over which we argued fiercely over decor and layout.
The ones on box elder trees, which are also maples, are nowhere near as much fun, but there are so many of them this year that even in August the trees looked more brown than green. Now with the long stretch of dry weather and the shortening days making the leaves rustle slowly to the ground, the trees are still dull brown with the fruit of their summer efforts. I have never seen so many.
All these signs have me concerned about what is looming on the seasonal horizon these days. However, at least here at Northview, the Woolly Bears are predicting an easy winter. Ours seem to display more reddish-brown than black, which the Old Farmer’s Almanac says means we will have an easy time of it this year. Our friends in the south say persimmon seeds are sporting spoons, which are associated with lots of wet snow.
And by the way, although this is the Farm Side and not the Bird Side, if you get a chance to visit aforementioned wildlife refuge this fall and take the drive, you will be wowed by the Great Egrets that are usually there right now. Imagine as many as fifty huge, white, birds, each over four feet tall, with wings that span over 50 inches. Imagine them reflected in the still water of a pool in which they cavort, at once clumsy, yet elegant and graceful, in quiet pursuit of frogs and fishes. It’s a sight worth remembering for sure.
Hopefully the harvest will be safe and productive for all our local farmers and the coming winter not too much of a pain in the neck.
Fultonville dairy farmer Marianne Friers is a regular columnist. She blogs at http://northvilledairy.blogspot.com.