Eclipse 2017

Like millions of my fellow Americans, I watched Monday’s eclipse with fascination. I live in South Central Iowa, and my dad, who is an amateur astronomer, drove down from Minnesota in the hopes of seeing it on its path of totality.

The night before the eclipse he sat on my couch, scouring weather sites for forecast information. He looked as far west as Grand Island, NE, and as far east as Nashville, TN. Ultimately, he decided we should leave my house at 5am and drive to Columbia, MO, the town closest to my house along the path of totality. From there, we would stop to look at the forecast again and drive east or west along said path until we were in a spot with clear skies.

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It’s 5am on eclipse day!

Prior to this week, neither of us had ever seen a total solar eclipse. We were excited! But not half as excited as we will be in 2024, now that we know what an amazing experience it is. Sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s true.

A lot of the fun of the eclipse was the build-up. We stopped at McDonald’s in Columbia to grab a bite and check the weather. The forecast looked as good as anywhere else within a couple hours’ drive, so we went to the airport, thinking we would find:

  1. other people
  2. access to open skies and
  3. (importantly, since we got there at 9:45am and the eclipse started around 1pm) a bathroom.

First, we had to stop at Walmart to buy cheapo lawn chairs because in our obsession over checking the weather, we forgot to bring some. We saw LOTS of people walking out of the store carrying them, to the point where I wondered if they’d be sold out and we’d have to sit on the ground!

At the airport it was hot and humid, but everyone’s spirits were high. We chatted with the people near us – a family from Branson, MO, a couple from Brainerd, MN, two young women from New York, and a family from Dartmouth, MA, where I went to graduate school – small world.

I brought glow in the dark bracelets, the kind you break to activate. I bought a tube of 20 at the Dollar Tree, so we had a *few* more than we could use. After offering them to our new neighbor-friends, I walked around the parking lot and gave them to families with little kids. Many of the younger kids seemed confused as to why I was handing them a glow in the dark bracelet in the middle of bright sunshine, but they accepted them happily.

The bracelets did work!

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Bracelets glowing during totality

As the eclipse drew nearer, the skies began to cloud over. We worried that we were going to miss it. But, lo and behold, shortly before 1:00 a nice gap appeared in the sky right around the sun. We were blessed or lucky – either way, the entire parking lot full of people was grateful! Airport personnel went around with extra pairs of eclipse glasses and everyone shared food. We were offered water, pop (including Sunkist, which was a deliberate purchase, according to Lachelle from Branson!), sandwiches, and moon pies (another clever purchase by Lachelle).

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Moon pies

Our spot was excellent. We were within a hundred yards of the line of dead center totality. That means we had a long time to look at the eclipse, though on the video I state that “it felt like 10 seconds.” I’m not even going to try to describe the eclipse to you. I don’t have the poetic chops to do it justice. I failed utterly in describing it to my husband. It was only after he watched my reaction to it (on video) that it looked to me like he understood how amazing it was. I almost cried when I took my glasses off (during the peak), and I still almost cry every time I watch the video! So… even though the video is pretty embarrassing – I had no idea I was so, um… vocal – I’m going to share it with you, too. I hope that sharing my amazement will inspire you to catch America’s next total solar eclipse. April 8, 2024.

Check how far you’ll have to drive in 2024 using this map (plan a vacation around it if it’s a haul!): https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2024-april-8

See you there!

Engagement Photos

It was chilly¬†in Minnesota this weekend (although according to the Northerners it was “really nice”). I no longer consider myself a true northerner. As far as I’m concerned, Iowa is the South. It’s typically 20 degrees warmer there than in ND/MN in the winter. Pretty big difference.

Anywho. Kyle and I braved the elements to have our engagement pictures taken outdoors on Saturday, by one of my lovely and talented sisters, Jen. She did a great job and kept us (ok maybe mostly me – Kyle was a good sport but I think he thought we were a teeny bit crazy) laughing the whole time. Our shoot involved¬†a couple of outfit changes. These took place¬†in an abandoned farm outbuilding. I’m not sure what the building’s original purpose was, but I was grateful for the windbreak, rotten floors and all!¬†Here are a few of my favorite pics Jen captured. Check out more of her work here.

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So you want to be a farmer… Part 2

I hope the anticipation has built appropriately for the remainder of my farming adventures.

Let’s start with a chat about Gary’s tractor. This is Gary’s tractor:IMG_5058

Looks cute, right? Gary (the daytime defoliator) loved Gary’s tractor. To clarify: my uncle is the owner of Gary’s tractor – I think it was the first tractor he ever purchased. He’s pretty proud of it. Despite this, I intensely disliked¬†Gary’s tractor. Why? Well, one of the main reasons was that¬†the lights in the back didn’t work very well, and I never felt like I could see what I was doing.

View from the back of the tractor at night:

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I also had to run Gary’s tractor¬†really slowly, because its tiny little front wheels didn’t handle the deep sprinkler ruts very well (my other farmemy). Of course, the struggle against these mini crevasses had absolutely nothing to do with the operator of the tractor. Sprinkler ruts are from – what else – sprinklers that water the fields. If you haven’t seen them before, they’re basically really long arms that stick horizontally out of (and rotate around) a central fixed point. The arms have sprinklers hanging down every few yards, and they are supported by perpendicular rods that have wheels at the bottom. The sprinklers drive around in circles, like the hands on a clock. As they drive, their wheels cut grooves into the earth. The sprinklers save a lot of time irrigating the crops, but they can cause super deep ruts in the fields that make harvest more challenging.

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Ruts that run horizontally across the rows are okayish to drive across. I usually just slowed down and bumped my way over and through them. It was when the ruts run parallel or almost parallel to the rows that I had the most trouble. Then you’re trying to stay on row, so the defoliator cuts the tops off properly, but you’re trying not to let any of your wheels fall into the rut, dragging all of your machinery out of place. Sometimes falling into the rut is inevitable, and then you just pray as you tip that you’re not going to break the PTO shaft for the third time.

Gary’s tractor has littler tires than mine, and I thought it was way harder to maneuver through the ruts. Here’s a picture of “my” tractor:

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Photo by Brandon

You’ll notice that my tractor is missing a tire in this picture. Yes, I did that… One night, I was driving my tractor and I kept getting error messages on my computer screen. So, I radioed Jerry, who was on the digger from 4pm-4am (my shift was 7pm-7am). The digger is the boss of the field, basically. Jerry said he’d come look at my tractor when I got in line with him across the field. So I drove for a little longer, through a bunch of rough ruts. Then Jerry came and looked at my tractor. We couldn’t find anything wrong with it, even after we turned it on and off, revved it up, and walked all the way around the whole machine.

Shortly before this, one of the truck drivers had hit Jerry’s digger, causing one of its side panels to fall off. This was a brand new digger, and they’re not cheap, so we picked up the panel and threw it on top of my defoliator. I was going to drive it over to the light post (a gas powered light that marked the approach into the field for the truck drivers) so nobody would accidentally run over it in the dark. Jerry, Denys, and I got the panel, which was very big and heavy, situated on top of my defoliator.

I started driving it over to the lamp post (about 75 meters away), and noticed I was having some trouble driving a straight line. Whatever. I thought the field was muddy or something. I had to steer really hard to the right, but I managed to get reasonably close to the lamp post. So then Denys (who had been driving the truck that hit the panel) met me and helped me lift it off the defoliator and carry it to the light.

As we turned¬†back to the vehicles, I could tell he was feeling really bad about hitting the new digger, so I patted his shoulder and said, “It’s okay, Denys, everyone… what the [extra bad word], I don’t have a tire!” And I didn’t. I was missing my left rear tire (one of the big ones). No wonder my tractor was hard to steer. Needless to say,¬†Denys instantly felt better.

I was super confused. So I radioed, “Jerry, I don’t have a tire.” There was a long silence. Again, “Jerry, I don’t have a tire on my tractor.” Finally, the response: “What?”

“I don’t have my left rear tire on my tractor. It’s gone.”

“That’s not possible.”

“Well, I’m looking right at it and there’s definitely no tire there.”

“Where is it?”

“I don’t know. Not anywhere around here.”

Long pause. “Is the rim there?”

“Yeah, I think so… that’s the metal part the tire sits on, right?”

I think he was still incredulous, but he told me to get his pickup truck and drive around the field til I found the tire. Ha! I still laugh when I think about the ridiculousness of that night. I drove around like a drunk for a while, purposely zigzaging to sweep the headlights across as much of the field as possible. I did find the tire, basically in the same spot as where I had been parked when Jerry and I were trying to figure out the error message.

I then called Jerry on my cell to tell him I found the tire. He wanted to know if the rim was inside of it. I said no. He didn’t believe me, so I jumped up and down on the tire and told him I did so… the tire bent in and out, which in my mind, it wouldn’t have done if there had been a rim in there. He still didn’t believe me so I stuck my hand in the tire. There was nothing there. Still disbelief so I had Denys get on the phone¬†and confirm the lack of rim. Then he wanted to know if it was shredded. It wasn’t. I think he thought I was crazy at this point.

But he came over and the three of us lifted/shoved the tire onto the back of his truck. Then I drove it up to my tractor and plodded off to Gary’s tractor, sighing all the way, resigning myself to a long dark night with a heater that was either all on, blowing directly into my eyeballs, or all off. Gary’s tractor had¬†a cab door I wasn’t strong enough to pull shut all the way, so I was constantly turning the heat on and off to try to balance the draft against hot dry eyes. My legs always felt like Jello when I was done with a shift on Gary’s tractor because the clutch was super hard to push. This night was no different. To top it off, the field had some of the deepest, muddiest ruts of any field I defoliated, and I managed to get Gary’s tractor stuck in one of them as the sun rose. I radioed for help and then just sat there, dejected and somewhat humiliated. Brandon came to the rescue. What a guy! Never made fun of me for somehow losing a tire on one tractor and then getting another one stuck.

Here’s the interior of Gary’s tractor (sorry, I somehow neglected to take pics of the interior of mine, it was Cadillacish in comparision, imagine computer controls and the like!):

Gary's tractor cab

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At any rate, I generally had a pretty good time pretending to be a farmer. And I was told that the tire was not my fault. I’m going to choose to believe that even though I seriously doubt I didn’t play a part. Ha! Apparently what happened was I hit a bad rut, lost the bead on the tire, and then when I started driving again, I hit another rut perfectly and basically just drove out of the tire. Jerry had a pretty good time taking pictures that night! I guess he’d never heard of such a thing, and he grew up on a sugar beet farm. My uncle didn’t seem to think it was that unusual.

I’m grateful I got the chance to work on the farm. It certainly changed how I think about all the food I see in the grocery store. That food doesn’t get there without a whole lot of hard work by a bunch of dedicated individuals and families. Next time you meet a farmer, thank them!

Because I was on the night shift, I got to see some pretty neat stuff. I’ll post some more pictures below, but I saw coyotes (they are not afraid of tractors in the slightest), deer, a porcupine, numerous¬†beautiful sunsets and sunrises, and a lunar eclipse!

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Lunar eclipse

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View from front of my tractor. You can see a set of 6 rows of defoliated but not yet dug beets on the right.

View from front of my tractor. You can see a set of 6 rows of defoliated but not yet dug beets on the right.

Sugar beet fields

Sugar beet fields

Digger

Digger. Photo by Brandon

Load 'em up!

Load ’em up! Photo by Brandon

Loaded sugar beet truck, off to the dump

Loaded sugar beet truck, off to the dump. This was shot inside my tractor – you can see the orange computer control board here.

Another view of my tractor :)

Another view of my tractor ūüôā