Have you noticed them yet? The subtle changes as the seasons start to shift? The apples turning from green to a glow of red? A flush of red tomatoes hanging from the tomato cage supports? The summer flowers on their last hurrah and fall mums and asters waiting for their turn to bloom? The soybean fields starting to turn from deep green to shades of yellow as they ripen? The bottom leaves and stalks of the corn shifting as it reaches maturity? How about the return of kids and cows from the county fairs? All subtle reminders the summer is coming to a close and fall is waiting in the wings.
    The morning song has a new tune in the air as the seasons start to shift. The sweet spring songs of the robin and wrens have been replaced by the trumpet blast of southward bound Canada geese and the squawking of lanky sand hill cranes. From dark hidden corners of the barn, underneath the pile of lime bags, the crickets start to chirp. The blue martins no longer scold me when I work in the garden a bit too close to their house. The barn swallow chicks have left their perch on the barn fence or else the cats found a quick snack. I enjoyed seeing the chubby fluffy drops of chocolate divinity sitting on the wooden neck board as we switched cows through the old barn. They couldn’t fly yet but would awkwardly try to flutter to another perch away from danger, flapping their wings as hard as they could to move a few feet for safety. The nests are empty as the little ones have grown up and flown the coop.
    All sorts of critters have been making their home around our area this summer. I don’t think we live that far “up north” but the variety of animals we have prowling around our area suggests otherwise. A timber wolf was spotted in the woods just west of our place this spring. The fishers have moved into the neighborhood snacking on squirrels. That might explain why every acorn sprouted into tiny trees across my yard. The neighbor kid put out trail cameras around our swamp and corn fields to catch sight of a black bear that has been roaming through our neighborhood. Our neighbor, Ernie, spotted him outside his living room window the other day. At first he thought it might be a large black calf that got away from the boys but that idea quickly went out the door when the creature stood up on his hind legs and started snacking at the bird feeder. Other neighbors have seen the bear around their places, too. Apparently it went right by our house one night. Good thing I’m a sound sleeper. I didn’t have a clue. He walked by the silage bags and across the hay fields in search of food or fun. I’m glad he didn’t find enough of either at our place.
    The only critters having fun at our place are the raccoons. I can hear them laughing their heads off at us. Mark planted sweet corn on the corner of a field, just under the outside edge of the pivot. We have been driving by the patch all summer with chopper boxes hauling haylage down from the 40. We would watch as the corn tasseled, the ears silked and husks grew plumper with sweet juicy kernels. One night after chores, Austin and Mark thought they should put some sweet options with deadly results out for any four legged bandits who thought they could help themselves to the sweet corn. They were a day too late. The raccoons had been watching the corn mature just as we had and snuck in the night before. They must have brought the whole family including second and third cousins. They cleaned the entire patch out of every big first ear of corn. They left barren stalks and second smaller cobs intact. Ugh! Well at least we would be able to salvage the second ears in a couple days. Nope, they got them the day before we went out to clean out the patch. The only saving grace was Mark took his corn planter and planted six rows in my garden. Either the raccoons didn’t find the garden patch or else the purple martins’ scolding them kept them at bay.
    Probably the most obvious sign summer is coming to a close is when the show box is finally stored away for another season. Hopefully someone cleaned it out of wet wash clothes, empty spray cans, buried ribbons and half eaten fair treats. Our show box is buried under feed pans in the back corner of the granary, silently waiting for the next generation to grow big enough to lead a novice calf in the ring.
    Pam Hendel posted on Facebook about the family show box her grandfather built. It has been hauling show supplies, dreams and hopes for over 40 years to their county fair. It reminded me of our show boxes. The one I built with my brother for our beef steers. We branded it with our Dowell Kid mark to match our dad and uncle’s Dowell Brothers brand. Mark made his first show box out of an old wooden sewing machine box and homemade lid. It was the perfect size when our kids started showing in the novice calf classes. When the kids and show string got bigger, so did the show box. One of my favorite pictures is of the crew (Mark, Jonathon, Michael, Katie, Austin and Andrew) surrounding their handy work. There were hooks on the inside wall to hold show halters. A sliding basket shelf allowed them to find things at the bottom of the box. The box was big enough to hold hoses, wash gear, extra clothes and of course food.
    A show box holds more than just feed, supplies and extra clothes though. A show box holds memories and dreams like an old cedar hope chest passed down through the family. Oh, the stories that box could tell of summer romances and broken hearts. Of dreams fulfilled or damped. Tears of joy and tears of loss. Laughter, jokes and pranks. Endless card games with no clear rules. The show box is the meeting place for everyone. What parent hasn’t told their kids to meet them at the show box.
    As the kids return from the Minnesota State Fair, this season shift will be complete as we move into the next season of our lives but the memories will be safely stored in the show box for another year.
    Natalie, Mark and his brother Al, farm together near Rice, Minn. They milk 100 registered Holsteins under the RALMA prefix. Their four children are grown up and all involved in agriculture with hopes of someone returning to the farm. For questions or comments, please e-mail Natalie at mnschmitt@jetup.net