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Autumn's unexpected bounty

By Sue Wunder / November 3, 1999



The drought has dried more than the pastures here in southern Indiana. Cows simply can't turn hay to milk with the same efficiency and enthusiasm they bring to bear on good green grass. As a result of the lack of rain, and the early onset of an all-hay diet, our dairy herd's production has slipped to its annual low. Consequently, the bimonthly milk check has withered as well.

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Looking for adjunct sources of income, we've begun putting together a load of recyclable scrap metal. The other day, we also snapped to attention at finding this ad in the paper's farm-market classifieds:

WANT TO BUY BLACK WALNUTS BRING WALNUTS TO

HULLING STATION

$10 per 100

The fine print provided directions to a point about 20 miles south of our farm. From there, one could follow the signs.

The quoted price sounded too good to be true. The ad didn't say $10 per 100 pounds, but per 100, period. There was no phone number given to check on this, so we waited to consult the next-day's paper. Sure enough, the same ad beckoned again, with no corrections: $10 per 100 walnuts, one could presume.

Even though I suspected something was missing in the formula, it seemed worthwhile to respond, this being a banner year for walnuts. The persimmons are plentiful, too, and uncommonly sweet, but the walnuts rule. The green hulls, ranging in size from golf balls to baseballs, cover the ground so thickly in places it's a wonder the cows can walk about without coasting.

The most prolific tree grows at the fringe of the big back pasture, about a half mile from the house and road. Because of its shedding, the pasture looks green here, a curious oasis against the brown, sere backdrop of parched earth. Suddenly, the drought worked to our advantage. The creek, midway back to the tree, was all but dry, and the cow paths leading down to its bed and up again hadn't been muddy in months. With my son, Tim, I could drive the pickup right to the source of what looked to be easy money.

I've never before driven a vehicle other than my tractor to the back of the farm, and it was a novelty for both us and our animals. As we bounced up the hill in low gear (the creek had presented no more problem than a snow-slick road), the cows and draft horses turned to stare. They knew the truck, but up here it was a stranger in a strange land. It was our elder Belgian, Jim, who first collected his wits and recognized this as the vehicle that sometimes brings hay to the barn.

He followed us up the last leg, then hung his massive head into the truck bed as we stopped. Doc, the other half of the team, explored from the other side. They soon raised their heads in mutual and simultaneous disdain. No meals on wheels today; nothing but empty boxes. As Tim and I exited the cab, he took in the scene.

"Hey, Mom! This could be some truck ad on TV!" I looked back at the horses and truck, and it was true. With their massive shoulders book-ending the top of the cab, Doc and Jim made a striking statement. The image they projected, stolid against the truck, embodied the almost literal message: "Horsepower here."