Explanatory Note: A swather is a machine that cuts wheat straw
and piles it into windrows. The crew I worked for cut and baled the stubble after
the combines had harvested the wheat. The straw bales were mostly shipped to
Canada for growing mushrooms. |
"There's absolutely no schedule"
If someone asked me what hours I work, I'd have to reply, "All of them." Actually, it's
really cool to be outside all the time. I feel lucky
that I get paid to watch the sunrise, the sunset, the stars come out, the
moonrise - every day. Sometimes if I'm lucky I'll see a coyote or even a hawk catching
a mouse. The world paints itself a different way for every hour of the day.
It's hot. Fortunately my swather has an air conditioner. The AC in David Lopez's
swather broke the other day, so he drove with the door open. When that got
unbearably hot he tied two pieces of bailing twine to the steering wheel and set
the speed on slow and steady. That way he could use the bailing twine reigns to steer
the swather while riding outside. David is so ingenious!
...Another week has passed. A week feels like only a day in swathing time. Today one
of the back wheels on my swather snapped off. An inch-and-a-half thick axle just
broke in two. It's weird - a wimpy grounding wire takes a whole day to figure out,
while a snapped axle is replaced within hours. That's the thing about this job -
there's absolutely no schedule. I feel no stress - not even when a tire blows out
or the transmission dies on my pickup.
A crop duster flew so close to me that I could have thrown a rock and hit him, even
with my bad aim.
I just added up my hours for the month, and I'm tired. I thought some weeks only
felt like I worked 60 hours, but they were actually more than 70. I'll be living
in a hotel this week because we are now quite far north - near Grand Coulee.
This last week I stayed in room #17 of the Eight Bar B Hotel in Wilbur, Washington
(There are only 17 rooms in the hotel). Everyone in Wilbur already knows who we are.
I think we are the most exciting thing that's come to town since the Alibi Tavern
A farmer left a note in my pickup this week while it was parked at the edge of the
field I was cutting. Later, while walking with the note in my hand from my hotel
room to my pickup (about 8 feet), the mailman stopped and called out, "My dad wrote you that
note. You can call him any time."
Another time I was driving down Wyberny Rd. when a farmer flagged me down from his
tractor to tell me something. I asked him his name, and he said, "Wyberny." As I drive
down Krause Rd. I see signs that say "Krause for County Commissioner."
I feel like such an outsider. To be a part of the Wilbur community you have to live
there for four generations. To be noticed in Wilbur you only need to stay four
A restaurant in Wilbur advertised "Five Cheeseburgers for Five Dollars" this week.
Jesse, one of our swather drivers, decided it was a good deal and ate all five
cheeseburgers in one sitting. We heard him at 5 AM the next morning throwing up
all five cheeseburgers. What a deal!
Wilbur is so far north that I saw the Northern Lights this week. Fantastic show,
complete with the Milky Way, Meteors, and Satellites. It's also getting pretty
cold at night. I'm glad the swather has a heater.
Last Sunday Barry (My boss) and I went for a drive down a little two-track dirt
road. It wound down around the hills that drop down to Lake Roosevelt. Halfway down
we came upon an abandoned cabin from the 1920's or 30's. It must have been a cozy
little place for some settler and his family.
Norwegian Bachelor Farmers
You know how Garrison Keillor (from A Prairie Home Companion) is always making jokes
about Norwegian bachelor farmers? Well, I've been cutting some of their fields
recently. I first met Larry Martin when he rode into the field on a motorcycle
wearing nothing but shorts and shoes. His brother Randy lives nearby in a doublewide and
farms only 800 acres. Several generations of inheritances have split the old family
farm into smaller and smaller pieces. I talked with Randy for over an hour the other
night. He must be lonely living all by himself out here in the Palouse. He only goes
into Spokane or Moses Lake once a year for supplies - twice if there's an emergency.
He buys everything else he needs at the local grocery in Wilbur. Even though Randy
says he's busy finishing the harvest, he still finds time to talk to me for an hour
whenever I see him. Life runs at such a different pace out here on the prairie.