I was driving home through the dusk and I got a call from Paul. “If you can,” he said, “get home. They’re harvesting the soybeans and you can get a picture of the combine with the tree.”
My whole family is on alert now for this kind of stuff. I didn’t even do it on purpose, but the children will come running through the house to find me if there’s a nice sunset. “Mom! Come quick!” they yell. “You have to take a picture!”
I didn’t break any traffic laws, but I hurried. I pulled in at the end of our lane just in time. The light was going fast, and the combine had cleared everything but a narrow strip of crops on the far side of the field, near the still-standing corn. I wasn’t dressed for it, but I hopped the ditch anyway and hiked a little way into the field, standing just far enough away to avoid alarming the combine operator. Wondering what a crazy woman is doing watching you harvest soybeans in twenty-degree weather is one thing; wondering if she’s running into the path of your enormous machine is another.
It took a little while. The combine was heading away from me when I first stumbled out there, and the shots I took were intriguing. Sort of. But they weren’t right. I’m not really a photographer. I don’t understand much about composition and even less about lighting, so I operate entirely on my gut. Something just wasn’t right. I waited.
I waited some more. The sky behind me turned shades of hot pink and dull lavender, and I wondered if I was shooting in the wrong direction. It was really cold, and I didn’t even have gloves. It’s a long field, and combines don’t operate at road speed. Just when I’d started to wonder if he was offloading into a wagon somewhere out of my field of vision, the big green machine lumbered back over the hill and came back toward me.
This was better. The oncoming lights of the combine were interesting, but it still wasn’t what I wanted. For one thing, the dust coming off the combine was obscuring the view of the tree. Still, I kept shooting — digital photography is a beautiful thing for bumblers like me — and then stood shifting my weight, trying to stay warm, wondering if I’d really run out into the freezing, dimming evening to feel so unsatisfied.
He turned again, and there it was. It wasn’t quite right yet, but I could see it coming. I tapped away as the combine progressed back toward the tree, kicking up dust behind it and picking up the last narrow row of crops left in the field. I checked the shots on the screen to be sure, but I already knew. I’d gotten what I wanted.
I didn’t share it right away, this picture of a familiar place in transition, and I couldn’t have told you why. I suppose that again, it didn’t feel quite right. I sent Paul a shot so he knew I’d listened and gotten home on time, and then I tucked it away in the back of my mind for nearly two weeks.
When Paul called me that night, I was on my way home from my new job. I’m no longer working at the church we’ve attended for fifteen years. I’m full-time now, an office manager at a counseling center. I have a commute. I have new coworkers to get to know, and new information and processes to absorb.
This is all good. It’s the right direction for our family at this stage. But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been unsettled, that we haven’t been kicking up some dust. We talked with the boys before the new job started, and they knew things would be a little different. We prepared as much as we could, but change is always hard. So much of the landscape is familiar, but our focus is narrowed to what’s changing. There have been moments of standing in the deepening dusk, fingers freezing, wondering if this was a good idea. We’ve had some rough days. We’ll probably have some more, but we’re figuring it out, all of us together. It isn’t quite right yet, but I can see it coming.
Looking at this shot, I can’t help but think back to the shots I took earlier this year, my friend Peggy standing in a field of green, the tree in full leaf behind her, the sun warm on our shoulders. The field after harvest looks bleak in comparison. And yet the harvest is the whole point. Without the harvest, the field would never be planted, and the sea of green growing things would never exist.
Change. Grief. Transition. So often, these things feel like a stripping away of all the beautiful things in our lives. But I wonder if we can learn to think of these times as a harvest, a gleaning of knowledge, and strength, and resilience. A time to marvel at the stark beauty of bare branches fracturing the winter sky. A long, quiet gathering of possibility, waiting for the sun, and the full, flowering riot of late spring.