The Planted Row: It’s OK to get caught with the mare

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Farm Forum

“Dad, can we watch the looney eclipse? I want to see the looney eclipse.”

With those words (which my daughter thought hilarious), I found myself standing in my backyard on Sunday night with an eight-year-old girl on my shoulders. My son was standing by my side, and all three of us were howling at the moon. (I’m sure the neighbors were thrilled.) My wife was wincing in embarrassment.

In our defense, it was a special moon. By now, most people know it was a super moon, meaning the moon reached its fullest stage during its closest approach to Earth, and the moon experienced a lunar eclipse. The Earth’s shadow moved across the moon, giving it a red glow. This is why a lunar eclipse is also known as a blood moon. However, people might not know that last Sunday’s moon was also a harvest moon, the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox (Sept. 23 this year).

A super moon, a blood moon, and a harvest moon all on the same night. The kids thought it was great. My daughter exclaimed, “This is the best night ever!” Though, that might have had more to do with getting to stay up past bedtime and playing in the back yard after dark. I, on the other hand, was feeling a connection with generations upon generations of farmers.

Since ancient times, harvest festivals in many cultures have been held on or near the day of the harvest moon. This was the time of year in which our ancestors celebrated the bounty of the earth. A spring and summer of sweat and toil was celebrated at harvest time. I can only imagine what those joyous festivals looked like in ancient England. Different areas had different traditions, but there are at least two traditions we know were fairly common.

In England, wheat and other grains were called corn. In pre-Christian England, pagans believed that the spirit of the corn lived within the grain in the field. So in a given area, the farmer who cut the last sheaf would fashion a doll or figure out of the straw called the corn dolly. The spirit of the corn would supposedly enter the doll, and it was kept safe until the next spring when it was plowed into the first furrow for the new grain crop, allowing the spirit to inhabit a new crop.

Another tradition, known as “calling the mare,” was a little more lighthearted. The first farmer to finish his harvest fashioned a rough shape of a horse using the last sheaf. He then tossed the straw horse into a neighboring farmer’s fields and called, “Mare! Mare!” That farmer then hurried to finish his harvest, at which point he could pass the mare along to another farmer still working on harvest. The last farmer to finish harvest was forced to display the mare in shame throughout the winter.

In our part of the country, the harvest moon has heralded the beginning of the soybean harvest. Every farmer is in a hurry to get the crop out of the field. However, in your rush to avoid being the farmer left holding the mare, let me remind you to take the time for safety. Word has reached the Farm Forum that a Groton man, Wayne Feller, was killed while working on a combine last weekend in Spink County. This tragic news is a grim reminder that although harvest is a joyous season, it can also be very dangerous.

Please take all necessary precautions.

Contest winner

This week’s Farm Forum 50th anniversary cash giveaway contest winner is Janet Hollister of Westport, S.D. She will receive a replica windmill and is eligible to win the $5,000 cash grand prize. Prizes are mailed at the end of each month.