I was recently reminded of a recurring line in the movie Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates,” Forrest said. “You never know what you’re gonna get.”
I often have that feeling as I leave home for a road trip into farm country. I have a notion of what I’ll get: a notebook full of quotes from farmers, crop specialists, and other experts that I try to turn into an interesting narrative about issues on the farm.
I usually get 100 or more photos, maybe five or six minutes of video recordings depicting timely activities from the rural Southwest.
I know where I’m headed and what crops the farmers I plan on interviewing are growing. But serendipity plays a role. And that’s a good thing, actually. The unexpected comments a farmer makes as we bounce along his fields often become the heart of the story. I’ve often discarded a story angle I was planning because an unexpected revelation from a farmer or rancher just seemed more interesting.
And I never know what photo op might show up around the next turn or over the next rise when I’m cruising rural roads to and from farmer interviews.
Last week, for instance, I was headed west on Highway 380, up to the High Plains where I had interviews with cotton farmers scheduled for the following day. I noticed combines harvesting wheat along the way and kept watch for a field with easy access. The one I chose was a large field, flat as—well, flat as a West Texas wheat field. A semi-truck was parked in just-cut stubble, along with a grain hopper. The combine was running on the far side of the field, almost invisible in a cloud of dust.
I parked on the edge of the field and was pleased to see someone smiling as he walked over to greet me. I introduced myself and asked permission to take some harvest photos.
Dan Blanks explained that his brother, Terry, was on the combine. Dan is retired and came up from the Dallas area to help with wheat harvest. “He’ll probably let you ride along,” Dan said as he punched his brother’s number in his cell phone.
Terry made a quick stop, and I climbed aboard. He was gracious, answered my questions without hesitation and told me about his crop. He was not overly pleased with the yield on this parcel but said he had better wheat in a nearby county. Even at that, it was better than last year’s disaster.
I stayed with him for maybe 20 minutes, shot some photos through the cab window and some video of wheat rolling into the header. He finished a half-circle and I climbed off, thanked him for his time, shot a few frames as he prepared to make another round and shook hands with Dan as I crunched through stubble to my truck.
I’ve posted some of the video and will use the photos to illustrate articles on the Texas wheat crop. And I was reminded of the reason I love this job so much. I can’t imagine another industry where someone would interrupt his work and ferry a perfect stranger around his workplace and talk candidly about his production challenges.
Neither Terry nor Dan seemed to mind the intrusion. And that’s not uncommon with the folks I am privileged to meet in my job.
I may never know what I’m gonna get, but it’s almost always a pleasant surprise.