Tall Corn, Part 2

People talk about global warming. When the grass goes dormant in June, and dew points exceed 100 degrees, I think they have a point. (By the way, where is the icon for “degree” on my computer? It’s a MacBook Pro. Please send your answers to me, care of the Journal–and, while you’re at it, where’s the icon for “in care of”?).

In fact, I’m pretty sure global warming was much worse back in the late 50’s, when I detasseled for Dekalb, then did a little “roguing” corn and walking beans. The sun–and here, I can’t provide any scientific proof, because I don’t think science was invented by that time–the sun was 27 percent bigger than it is now. Either that or it was 27 percent closer. Maybe more.

At the time, estimates of sun size were based upon how many TCHS footballs passed out during double practices in early August. Coach Butkovich had this interesting theory at the time: we did not and could not drink water during these sweltering practices because coach said “it makes you soft.” Turns out what lack of water made you do was pass off from dehydration. Which, OK, might be a sign of “softness.”

But, water, it turns out, is pretty good stuff to have around when you’re laboring under a hypertrophic sun in the dog days of summer. Coach could have been theoretically correct that if you train yourself, day after day, to progressively drink less and less water in hot weather, you might become more heat-tolerant and less water-dependent. But I don’t think coach was thinking that deep.

And sun-size at the time was also measured by how thirsty detasselers were at the end of vigorously and violently jerking corn tassels on a 7-mile long field (today, they’re usually a quarter to a half mile long, what with land being so expensive now). And they measured sun size by the following metric: on day one, Dekalb scientists provided an insulated, aluminum container of cool water at the end of the 7-mile torture-jerk for us to drink. We drank it dry in 10 seconds. Day after day, the water got increasingly worse, until about the fifth day when what awaited us at the end of the 7-mile jerk were oaken kegs of a thick, dark, warm semi-liquid gruel full of straw, grass and dead grasshoppers. We drank it dry–actually, chewed it dry–in 14 seconds.

From these rudimentary studies, Sunologists calculated that the sun was either 27 percent bigger or 27 percent closer than it was during the last Ice Age, which, in this part of the world, occurred 11,000 to 85,000 years ago, known as the Wisconsin Glaciation period. It is thought that when Illinois raised it’s income tax rates tens of thousands of years ago, Wisconsin invaded the state with a mile high ice sheet to lure businesses to relocate in their state.

Eventually, Wisconsin got all the business it wanted and de-iced Illinois. But what caused the ice to retreat and melt? Most scientists say it was an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, just like today. But where did the CO2 come from tens of thousands of years ago when everything was covered in ice? Prehistoric aerosol hairspray is one theory. Another is smog from early Flintstone cars aka Fred’s “footmobile”.

Yet others argue it was earth’s sun cycle. Evidently we got real close back during the Ice Age. And that heated things up. Which is what I’m pretty sure happened back in the late 50’s, and we’re still feeling the effects from it. Like Icarus, we flew close to the sun in the late 50’s, back when that corn was popping its tassels and those jaunty lads and lassies were jerking it like there was no tomorrow. At .65 cents an hour. (Where’s the “cent” icon?)

And every summer, when it gets uncomfortably hot and the humid, steaming air just sucking the breath out of your lungs, I think of my old coach. And think that if I could just stand there in that muggy steam and exert myself mightily–maybe chop down a tree with a dull ax, perhaps bale wet hay seven rows high–and not drink water until I passed out from dehydration, then repeated this every day, I would eventually grow a big storage hump and become a camel. It’s called evolution. At least as I understand Darwin’s theory of how camels evolved from prehistoric double football practices.

Today, my escape is to dream of winter…nice, breezy, cool winter with gentle snow falling during Christmas season. Yes, in the deep, dreary dog days of summer, I dream of winter. Can’t wait. But then in the bracing cold, blustery misery of sub-zero winter–with its snow and sleet, chillingly reminding me of another big glacier poised to slide on down from Wisconsin–now that we’ve raised our taxes, again–I dream of summer.

It can be a struggle, living through the radical swings of extreme seasons, this yin and yang of Sahara summers and Siberian winters, here in the heartlands, the breadbasket of the world, with all its beans and corn, and its double football practices just a few weeks away.

Today, no one walks beans; chemicals take care of weeds. And few detassel corn, most of the work being done–somehow–via an iPhone app. And double practices? There’s enough water on the field to refloat the Titanic….I think I hear coach rolling over.

mike carroll