Across the Cornstalks

Dave Smith


I hid in them as a boy, a common plaything for kids on the farm.  “City kids”, like those from Arlington or Poynette, didn’t understand.  They had blocks and bikes and schoolyards with swings and slides.  Many had blacktop driveways and skates.  Couldn’t roll too well on the gravel at my place, but the red wagon with my one knee on the flatbed and the other foot pushing worked just fine.  Even the long tongue of a steering mechanism didn’t frustrate my “pea truck” speeding down that long driveway like brother Neil did for the canning factory (might take a google search to find a picture of that harvest method for spring peas).  But those cornstalks—when head high they became a danger for getting lost and brought stern mom warnings.  “If you’re in there, stick to a row and you’ll walk out.”  I never went in when the stalks became a forest hiding sucking mud holes and the surety of wandering forever.

In the fall, I like to look across the browning, ripening fields.  The tassels droop with the sag of ear laden stalks.  Heavy for harvest, drying ‘til just the right week for huge combines to move into fields.  Back then, brother Neil pulled a two-row picker with the Farmall A….only the “big” farms had the “big” machines.  Parker Herwig took me along for a couple rounds in his combine one time, my first view ever across the cornstalks.  I might have been 5 or 6, but boy, what a view!  Ripening slowly stole the green softness I knew, aging bringing the brittle for reaping.  My ride included clinging, powdery dust and a fury of tassel lint flying everywhere.  I needed a grown up bath that day.

Funny to think of summer’s end as it begins.  Such the life of a writer guided by his muse.  This wee morning wakeup with words stumbling everywhere in my mind, words ready to paint a page, came with the pale grey into brightening blue rise of sun over rooftops.  Just a sunrise, not spectacular today, but light across the shingles, then across the freshly mowed, green yard.  My eyes strain for the invisible, stare across the open areas.  I scratch a stubble of whiskers, puzzle a moment.  As I lean on the railing, a lingering chill puffs up my shirt.  I find the cornfield, there in the haze of childhood.  Nothing I know quite replicates the wind through those brown and leaf-crackling stalks.  Never did, in the looking then and in the thinking now, figure out why they never seemed to break.

The sun touches me as the phone chimes a message.  Eldest brother Neil is not doing well.  Alzheimer’s, heart weakening…decisions about hospice and quality of life…and I know what the Holy Spirit has done this morning.  I look across the age, the brittle, the rooftop shingles and up.  Beams ray through the small bundle of clouds shrouding the sunrise.  Yes Lord, across the cornstalks, there you gleam, a hand outstretched, a gentle, so very gently smile.  I know in a heartbeat your touch nestles Neil in comfort, in grace and peace.  I know, in the swooping land of a morning dove, all is Yours to guide.  Brittle, haunting stalk of message – faith unbroken.  This is a living Christ, a loving Father, and an all-knowing spirit patiently stirring my tassels of thought so these beams of His love provide comfort.  The dove coo’s, looks my way, coos again as I slip inside to pray.

field of cornstalks