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Strictly Country Magazine Northwoods Country Harvest

Our deep respect for the land and its harvest

is the legacy of generations of farmers

who put food on our tables, preserved our landscape,

and inspired us with a powerful work ethic.

- James H. Douglas, Jr.

 

 By: Gina Kay Singerhouse

Editor

 

   It is the tale end of summer and I patiently wait.  I am as giddy as a school girl as I eagerly anticipate.  I am waiting for that first day, when the summer heat breaks and it gives me that initial glimpse of the feeling of fall. The first day, when the north winds of the northwoods, blow upon my face while sending a slight chill through my body.

   If you are in tune with the seasons as I am, then you will know that autumn does not arrive when the calendar says it should.  No, it arrives when you least expect it.  One night you go to bed with the symphony of crickets and frogs singing below your bedroom window.  Then the next morning, the north wind is sending a chill down your spine.

   I absolutely love the four seasons, but fall and the magic that it brings is one of my favorites.  It’s the magic of how Mother Nature changes the leaves from their greens to vibrant colors of reds, yellows, oranges and browns.  It’s the magic of how the cool air can bring two people together in love and warmth. Most of all it’s the magic of the harvest.

   I grew up on my parent’s two-hundred and seventy acre dairy farm, so harvest time was a busy time for us.  Then again, we spent all summer bailing hay to help feed the cattle during the cold winter months.

   I remember my mother’s massive vegetable garden.  She grew tons of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, yellow wax beans and sweet corn.  She always lined the edge with a row of beautiful Zinnias.  One morning out of the blue, she would announce at the breakfast table - “We’re canning tomatoes today!”  We would all groan in distaste at the work that needed to be done.  On another day, it was corn.  Then one fall day we would spend butchering the chickens all in preparation for the harsh winter yet to come.

   Harvest on the farm was different.  As soon as the field corn was ready to pick, it was all hands on deck!  To me this was the best time of the year. 

   I hated school, so I took advantage of Mom and Dad during harvest.  This was the time I would ask to stay home from school to help out with the harvesting.  I am sure they knew I didn’t want to go to school, but they would give in for the bit of extra help they needed at this time of the year.  Some of my fondest memories of my Mom and Dad were around the harvest season.

   As busy as we were around the farm at that time, Mom and Dad made sure we took one day to go to the apple orchard.  All of us would pile into that old 1976 Pontiac Catalina and drive to my grandmother’s house to pick her up and take her to the apple orchard.  There we were choosing locally grown apples, which we believed were the greatest treat in the world!  Then it was off to the local cheese factory.  Dad would drive us around the countryside all the while my grandmother shared stories of growing up with the horse and buggy.  She was born in 1895 after all.

   We would look at all the beautiful colors from the various leaves on the trees in the woods that lined the road.  Our faces were stuffed with assorted apples, cheeses and meats; while we listened to stories of old.  I wish I could go back and record those old stories.

   Today, well I keep the tradition alive. Although, I wish I had the room in my yard to grow my own vegetables; every Saturday morning you will find me at the local farmer’s market buying fresh vegetables.  One Saturday, my husband and I get into my Ford Expedition and take the same drive down to the apple orchard and cheese factory.  It’s a family tradition, one that we’ll observe for many years to come.

   We reap what we sow, and what my parents sowed in me at a young age I continue to reap throughout my adult years.  

   Through my years in the music industry, I have come across many wonderful songs that speak of the harvest, autumn and this magical time of the year.  Although, I must say many songwriters really don’t know the truth about living or growing up on a farm!

   To help you get into the season and enjoy the magic, I thought I would share with you the best country music songs about harvest.

   Perhaps the best song which speaks about the harvest comes from Trisha Yearwood with “The Dreaming Fields.”  Taken from her 2007 album Heaven, Heartache And The Power of Love, this song says it all with it’s elegant lyrics mixed with it’s soothing melody.

The Dreaming Fields

(Matraca Berg, Gary Harrison)

 

  Oh, the sun rolls down, big as a miracle
And fades from the Midwest Sky
And the corn and the trees wave in the breeze
As if to say goodbye


Oh, my grandfather stood right here as a younger man
In nineteen and forty three
And with the sweat and his tears, the rain and the years
He grew life from the soil and seed

Oh I'm goin' down to the dreaming fields
But what will be my harvest now
Where every tear that falls on a memory
Feels like rain on the rusted plow
Rain on the rusted plow

And these fields they dream of

wheat in the summertime
Grandchildren running free
And the bales of hay at the end of the day
And the scarecrow that just scared me

Now the houses they grow like weeds in a flower bed
This morning the silo fell
Seems the only way a man can live

off the land these days
Is to buy and sell

So I'm goin' down to the dreaming fields
But what will be my harvest now
Where every tear that falls on a memory
Feels like rain on the rusted plow
Rain on the rusted plow

Like the rain on the roof on the porch by the kitchen
Where as my grandmother sings, I can hear if I listen
Running down, running down to the end of the world I loved
This will be my harvest now

And the sun rolls down, big as a miracle
And fades in the Midwest sky
And the corn and the trees wave in the breeze
As if to say goodbye

 

    This song strikes a chord with me in many ways.  The pure artistry of Trisha’s performance is astounding and it should have earned her several awards.  Nonetheless, the heartstrings are pulled to ache when I hear this song as my parent’s farm no longer exists.  Ninety-six houses sit where fields of corn, wheat and alfalfa once grew.

   This brings me to a gentle song with a powerful message with “Pretty Little Barn.”  Recorded by Jeb Loy Nichols, this song does not speak about a harvest but speaks about the demise of a building that has seen many harvests. Again, this strikes a heartstring with me.

   The next song that I bring to this list is one that says a lot.  Written and recorded by Whisperin’ Bill Anderson, “The Farmer And The Lord” is one of those golden songs that speaks about a farmer talking to God.  My own father was not much of a church going man; I never understood it until he had passed. Nonetheless, I believe that he prayed more to God in his fields, than any one of us did in church.

   Another song that captures the simplicity of farming life comes from Rodney Atkins with his song “A Man On A Tractor.”  In this song, Rodney explores the simple life of the farmer and his work.  However, the farm life is not so simple.  Farmers must be schooled in many careers including electricity, plumbing, animal husbandry and  mechanics.

   I will agree though—life on a farm is simple, but hard.  Which brings us to our next song “Ain’t Life Sweet” by Rebekah Long.  Sure you can find a farm or two encroaching on a town or city, but in reality most are located out in the country.  Rebekah captures the simple country life in this delightful song.

   This simple life of the small time farmer is slowly being lost.  This year alone, we have seen many generational farms exterminated.  There are many reasons behind such devastation and Charlie Daniels captures them in his song “American Farmer.”

   One of the things that you will find on a farm is of course the farmhouse.  Within the walls of the farmhouse, you will find a long dining or kitchen table.  Most of the time a farmer will eat his or her meals in the fields.  One of my jobs as a child was to make and bring my father his lunch while he worked in the fields.  Nonetheless, the evening meal was always shared around my mother’s table.  

   The Oak Ridge Boys remind us the importance of that kitchen and or dinning table in their song “Mama’s Table.”  This heartfelt song captures life’s events spent around the inanimate piece of furniture.

   Another song that captures the story of the dinner table is found in “Father’s Table Grace.”  Recorded by the Gentlemen of Bluegrass, this song shares a wonderful story that is told through prayer.

  It’s what is on the table that we celebrate this season.  Not to far back, folks would grow their own food and harvest it to help feed their families through the harsh winters.

   One of the most amusing songs that I bring to this list comes from Dolly Parton.  Ms. Parton is no stranger to gathering for the harsh winters; nonetheless, she treats us with her song “Berry Pie.”  This lively song reminds us of a simple time gone by, but also reminds us to enjoy the gathering time of the harvest.

   Another straightforward song that I bring to this list is “Homegrown Tomatoes.”  Recorded by Guy Clark for his Songs and Stories album, this song is honest while it keeps us grounded.  I love the line “There are only two things money can’t buy...true love and homegrown tomatoes.”

   This season is all about gathering for the bitter cold winter ahead; however, it is also about sharing the abundance that one might have.  In my youth, I heard an old folk story called “Stone Soup.”  Not to long ago, a potential artist named Andy May recorded the narration to a gentle instrumental melody.  The song “Stone Soup” captures our interest as it relays the message of sharing.

   No one really knows the origin of the story of “Stone Soup.” Some say it began around 1548 as a fairy tale for children.  However it began, many nationalities have their own version of the tale.  Here in America it has been used for song, theatre and even film.  Personally, I heard it as a child while watching the television show Little House On The Prairie.

   There is something special about planting and cultivating your own garden, words cannot explain it.  No matter what you plant in your garden, it all begins with a seed.  One of the most prolific and well-written songs ever to come out of Nashville was one that was passed around for nearly three years before Billy Dean received it and just had to record it.  “A Seed” is another straightforward song that contains so much wisdom.  Within it’s lyrics it speaks about how a simple seed of a tree can become so much more once it is fully grown.  This is one song that should have earned every award the music industry has to offer.  By the way, Billy Dean did an exceptional job in bringing this song to life.

   Talk to anyone who plants and harvests from their own garden or farm and they will always tell you that they learned from the best, a family member.  Our good friend Mark ‘Brink’ Brinkman shares with us the story of his Grandpa in his song “Grandpa’s Way of Life.” This song reminds us of the simplicity that life once was and how many of us wish that we could go back to that.

   For those who take part in the harvest, they will always say that they got it honest.  Aaron Tippin talks about living the honest life with his song “I Got It Honest.”

   Another song that I bring to this list that speaks about the authentic way of living is “I’ll Grow My Own.”  Recorded by Chris Cagle, this song awakens us to the value of hard work and the simple life.

   In 2008, we introduced you to a new artist by the name of Eric Durrance when he released his album Angels Fly Away.  It is on this album I found a song called “Life Is Hard.” This one really doesn’t belong on this list, but I will add it because the life of a farmer is hard; nonetheless when a farmer has a good woman by his side it makes the hard days easier.

   I often think about my parents and how they worked side by side.  My mother would raise the calves while my father would milk the cows.  One would be out in the fields harvesting the crops while the other would bring the wagons filled with the crops back to the barn and corn crib.  It reminds me of the old adage—a family that works together, stays together.

   One of the things I remember about the farm was how my parents treated their cows.  My parents taught me about having great respect for all of the cows.  Each of their cows had a name and were treated better than most people treated their own pets.

   I am reminded of this every time I hear Corb Lund’s song “Cows Around.”  Performed in a western swing mentality, this fun song is sure get your feet tapping.

   My parents have been gone for almost five years now, but I remember them fondly.  I am reminded of their lives together every time I listen to Tammy Jones Robinette’s song “The Man In Those Shoes.”  This tender and heartfelt ballad reminds us to appreciate the hard working men in our lives.

   I remember the day that I left the farm.  I was ready to begin my new life with my husband in a different town.  I cried all the way to our new home, but I knew that I could always go back.  Today, I am unable to return to that farm, as it no longer exists.  Oh sure there are bits and pieces that still remain, but the love and spirit that my parents cultivated on that land, no longer remains.

   There are two great songs that I bring to this list, that speak of home.  The first is “Home Ground” recorded by Brigitte DeMeyer.  This song talks about the desire to return back home.  The second song comes from Bobby Cyrus, Billy Ray’s cousin, called “Homeplace.”  In this song, Bobby shares with us what truly matters at home.

   There are two songs that belong on this list due to their lyrics.  The first is “Autumn’s Not That Cold” recorded by Bluegrass band Flashback.  The second song comes from the Bellamy Brothers with “October Moon.”  Both songs speak about love and heartbreak.

    Shortly before his passing, Jim Ed Brown recorded his last album called In Style Again.  Although we consider “It’s A Good Life” Jim Ed’s autobiographical song, it still needs to be on this list. 

   I want to close out this list with a beautiful song by John and Judy Rodman called “When The Day Is Over.”  The best part about living on a farm and harvest is the sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.  This song captures that essence and brings it to the listener in pure elegance.

   Accomplishment…something that I have not felt since I left the farm nearly twenty-five years ago. Each day I awake in hopes of feeling that sensation once more.  Nonetheless, when night falls—I go to bed lost once more.

 

(This article was printed in the September / October 2018 issue of Strictly Country Magazine.)

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