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Just like that, the tawny wall of corn is gone. And just like that, our view to the woods is unobstructed. We can see the trees at the fence line behind our house. We can see Uncle David’s big rock to the west. The grass waterways on the morning and evening side of our house are visible again, green alleys snaking like rivers through the golden fields.

We were in the yard when the combine went by — always a cause for celebration. It comes right up to the edge of the yard, and in another year, I would have run out, waving my arms begging for a ride. And Jim or Sean (one drives the combine, the other drives the grain truck) would have stopped and let me climb up into the cab for a blissful half hour of a gentle carnival ride. But not this time.

I thought about grabbing my mask and asking, but even masked, I didn’t want to risk infecting anyone if I was one of those asymptomatic carriers. I get tested fairly often, but I try to be careful nonetheless, in case I step out of the test and run into the virus.

The spacious cab with its picture windows feels expansive when you’re sailing over the fields, watching the corn or the beans surrender their treasure, but it is an enclosed space. Better wait till next year.

They must have used a different corn head or different settings on the gather points this time, because instead of stubble and cob and husks and chewed up mulch, the fields are ankle deep in the corn’s long leaves.

The dogs and I walked out this morning, and it’s a little like scuffing through leaf piles on the sidewalk. It’s also gleaning time. To glean the fields for stray ears, you just walk. Sometimes a husk will be empty but look full, and if you bend down to get it, you’ll be disappointed.

Instead, wait until your foot hits something solid in the husk. I stepped on three missed ears of corn and carried them back for the chickens. All three of these ears were short and stubby, only half the usual length.

Did the combine miss these because they were short? Or were a lot of ears like this because of the drought?

I opened the top of the Mr. Ed door in the coop and unwrapped them from the husks and threw the ears down hard, shattering them a little on the coop floor. Everybody scrambled after the golden kernels.

We are keeping the chickens in the coop for a bit. Something has been picking them off, one every few days. I suspect a hawk, because we find no sign of them. They are just one less in the evening count. We’ve lost three of the Lavender Orpington hens and even one of the roosters.

I had wanted to keep two of the lavender roosters (which are really more of a rosy grey) and was going to name them Earl and Dorian. Now, with only one grey roo, what shall his name be?

Yesterday, Michael mowed some lawn. My husband has finally come around to my way of thinking, mow sparingly, letting the yard transform into less turf grass and more flowers.

He cut up fallen leaves in the process, then raked it all up to begin to fill the coop with the deep litter to get us through fall and winter.

The tiny mama Serama hen scratches around the floor with her lone chick by her side. The chick is growing and seems to be turning grey as she feathers out. I’m wondering if she’s only half Serama. Will she get her size from her mother and her feathers from her father? Time will tell.

We finally got a little rain but could use more. COVID-19 isn’t the only thing making the harvest difficult this year. We have also had field fires around central Illinois with this drought.

Harvesting in dry weather often fills the sky with dust, but I’ve never heard of so many field fires in my life (at least not in the 30 years I’ve been paying attention).

In these dry conditions, with the corn and beans like dried paper, it doesn’t take much of a spark to set one off. With windy conditions, fires can spread quickly. These fires are perhaps more easily contained than forest fires, but one such fire near Champaign called in five fire departments to put out the blaze. Just so, I’m relieved that Jim and Sean got the crops in safely.

The days are getting shorter and the dogs beg to be fed earlier as the sun sets on their usual dinner time. We’ll soon bring the finches in from the aviary and wrap the coop for winter.

Soon we’ll run the mower over the garden corner in the meadow and pile it with compost to enrich next year’s vegetables. I’ll try planting some greens in pots for indoor and bring in some of my potted flowers.

These fall preparations help shape my days as I prepare for the long winter ahead.

Glean in Beauty; Gather Peace; Blessed Be

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. If you’re missing your weekly dose of Birdland Letters in The News-Gazette, you can still read them every week in the Piatt County Journal Republican. Consider subscribing to support your small-town newspaper. You can see pictures about this week’s post on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of the Journal Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856. She wants to thank her friends for writing and will answer you all soon.

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