Fierce Iowa winters were inevitable, and writer Lawn Griffiths always had a visceral dread as August lapsed into September and autumn. The writer of Batting Rocks over the Barn—An Iowa Farm Boy’s Odyssey tells what he felt when the first cold breezes came out of the north to portend fall and its successor, winter.
He wanted it to be an endless summer. By August, he had a deep tan, bulging muscles from heavy lifting on the farm, and a complacence that it would never end. School was on the horizon, sharply changing the daily routine where he primarily handled milking cows, cleaning out animal barns, and hauling 50-pound sacks of feed to hogs and chickens. Summer was slipping away each day.
Those pictures that his mother took of her three children at the start of each school year by the front steps did not reflect the misgivings of the advent of school days, even though he liked school, nonetheless. He seemingly never experienced another summer like the summer ebbing away. Farm kids grudgingly were leaving behind the dying grasses of summer and watching the cornfields turn from green to tan. Corn ears turned downward by their weight, and the last cutting of hay was diminished from the June baling. The vegetable garden was giving up its last produce and vines turned to skeletons.
August came as an augur. It warned farm families of the frigid days ahead. The cicadas soon raised their whine. The thistles began sending forth their tufts like tiny parachutes. Lightning bugs were long gone. Griffiths surmised that each person must mourn the passing of summer in his or her own way, whether by self-pity of one’s fleeting mortality, or in noisy protest like a momma’s boy dragged off to kindergarten for the first time. Griffiths would stand in the warm sunshine of the twilight days of the summer season, breathe deeply as if inhaling the very sunshine itself. He was painfully aware that, with each day, the sun was lower. Its rejuvenating rays were less direct.
Griffiths writes, “Some of us try to preserve the summer in our pickles and frozen sweetcorn, in our vacation movies and memories of the music hits of that summer.”
With the first crisp breeze of late summer, Griffiths said his mind was hurled backward in time to the chill that pierced him in the cow barn at chore time when the barn radio played the wistful tune, “Green Leaves of Summer,” song that said the summer experience was over. One of its verses croons:
A time just for plantin’, a time just for ploughin’.
A time just for livin’, a place for to die.
’Twas so good to be young then, to be close to the earth,
Now the green leaves of Summer are callin’ me home.”
He further writes, “Probably, it’s not so much that we mourn the subtle and gradual loss of the summer conditions, as the passage of the summer experience itself, a time when survival was a bit easier and our bones thought we were young.”