I was walking back to the white truck after dropping off a roll of irrigation t-tape at the Land Connection barn at around 5:15 Thursday morning when I caught Kazami staring into space behind the wheel. This is a regular occurrence with my always-in-his-own-little-world little brother, but I noticed with concern that his eyes did not blink even after I plopped myself down next to him in the cab of the truck.
I knew the reason – we were both exhausted and our minds were not quite awake yet. The night before, we had watched the simmering sunset out of the corner of our eyes as we moved drip tape, taking care to tuck the tape close behind the beautiful broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower heads as we moved steadily down the rows. When we had first arrived in the truck, the darkening purplish-blue sky had turned the wisps of almost translucent clouds a lighter shade of blue. It was as if someone had taken bits of blue cotton candy and spread them randomly, the pieces almost touching each other, all over the darkening sky. An hour later, when we finally finished moving all of the black tapes one row over to the left, the bright slice of orange moon was playing peekaboo with us behind the clouds and the stars were glowing against the black sky.
Now, the next morning, as we drove down the road from the Land Connection barn to the field, Kazami (hopefully) wide awake, we listened to the radio announcer say that the heat index for today was going to be 106 degrees. I sighed internally, worrying that since I woke up too late and missed breakfast, my energy would plummet as the sun rose.
Luckily, I had packed a water bottle and some chocolate chips to snack on, and I ate hungrily in between catching the large, glossy lettuce heads that Daddy and Kazami were picking, cleaning and tossing at me. I pressed a button on the number clicker to keep track of how many we had picked and placed the lettuce neatly into one of the six boxes that were set up on the flat wheelbarrow. “325…326…327…” The pink sun was blazing into view at the corner of the sky, surrounding itself with a bright hue of red.
“Hai (here),” Daddy called out, tossing me a Green Boston. I looked up and was readying myself for the one-handed catch when Kazami also said, “Hai!” and without waiting for a response, tossed his lettuce at me as well. I caught Daddy’s successfully, while Kazami’s hit me hard in the stomach. “Kaami, really,” I glared, thinking that he was definitely out of it. I noticed then that Kazami was wearing one of my work shirts, which was obviously too tight on him. The long-sleeve button-up had a deep neckline for him and the collar had popped up, making him look like he had deliberately styled a preppy look – a wannabe farm model. The thought made me laugh and the fatigue overload made it difficult to stop giggling like a maniac, causing Daddy and Kazami to peer at me with curiosity.
Though we usually picked the lettuces early on Friday morning, Daddy had decided to do it Thursday morning because he feared that the heat would cause the lettuces to wilt beyond recovery by the time Friday rolled around. As we gathered more than 600 heads, moving the wheelbarrow from time to time and carrying the boxes on either side of the beds to the shade of the big and little trucks, I looked out across the field to where garlic stalks were waving.
Less than half of the beds of garlic remain standing, since on Monday morning, with the help of twenty or so students from a class at Illinois State University, and two friends from Chicago, Mary and Bea, we had pulled all of the soft-necks and some beds of the hard neck garlic from the field in record-breaking time. It was strange to see so many people in Daddy’s field at once, but we were all grateful for the help. It took all of Monday afternoon and until 8 at night to sort the soft-neck garlic into four categories, tie them and hang them up in the barn, as well as sort and cut the hard-neck garlic. Viki and Hannah, two good friends of mine from Northwestern who were visiting me for the weekend, helped gather 50-head bunches of small and 20-head bunches of extra-large garlic, lining up the tops for Daddy to wrap with twine. They went home covered with garlic incense and full of memories of watching the fireflies dance in the dark treetops of the Bottomfield on a midnight walk, playing hide-and-go-seek with a red moon, and weaving wildflower crowns and frolicking as the sun set.
The exhaustion that all of us were feeling by Thursday–even Daddy had forgotten to put on his belt before leaving the house before dawn – made sense, for Wednesday was also a strenuous day of scuffle-hoeing all of the remaining rows of summer squash, melons and cucumbers, as well as catch-up hand-weeding the sweet potatoes and okra. The sun seemed to rise ever so slowly that day, as my lower back muscles began to shoot up in pain from bending over to rip out the weeds with powerful strokes of my scuffle hoe.
As I remembered this, Kazami and I harvested the last of the lettuce out of the old lettuce patch, now overgrown in weeds, and I could feel the temperature of the dirt below my feet start to rise. Sweat began to form on my forehead and I drank all of the water left in my bottle.
Later, when I sat down in the beet patch to pull out only the largest beets, the ground burned through the seat of my pants. Thankfully, though, the intense rays of sunlight were defrayed by the almost constant wind, which made the heat manageable.
After the last golden beet bunch was made, it was already time for our three-hour lunch break. We all sat down in the large cab of the gigantic red truck and Kazami drove us back to the barn. Koko greeted us, wagging her tail with more energy than usual – probably because Aunt Beth and I had recently shaved her belly, a summer cut that was effective in cooling her down and giving her more energy.
Koko promptly rolled over to show me her bare belly when I neared her, so I gave her a belly rub, a hug and a kiss, then bid her goodbye to make my way up to the house. I knew it was time for all of us to rid ourselves of the ever-increasing fatigue – a direct result of the Garlic Harvest, scuffle-hoeing, the heat wave, and nightly water-moving – by taking glorious naps.