It was a perfect autumn day. The air was warm, and the sun smiled down from a sky that was a startling shade of deep sapphire. Pity, I thought, that such a day should be wasted on a funeral.
    It was not actually a funeral I was attending but a farm auction. And yet, I could not shake the feeling that I was witnessing an end of sorts.
    The owner of the property was an elderly gentleman, an old farmer who had long surpassed the Biblical three score and 10 . His wife of nearly 70 years had passed away after a brief illness a few months earlier.
    Now their entire lives were on display, lined up for the whole world to see. As I meandered amongst all the stuff, I felt like a both voyeur and a time traveler.
    A tour of the old farmer’s lineup of machinery was like viewing a photo album of his farming career. He had saved everything: horse harnesses. A barrel once used for hog slop. A cream separator. Wooden chicken crates. It all bore mute testimony to long hours of hard labor, the unending battle with the elements and the ability to prevail despite it all.
    The auctioneer sang his cadence, selling the John Deere A that the farmer had purchased new in 1949. A tractor that had been a faithful servant, turning the soil, starting in the below-zero cold, cultivating corn in the sweltering summertime heat. It was won by a man who was known to deal in scrap iron.
    Near the farmhouse, the flotsam and jetsam from a lifetime of farm living was piled in neat rows. It must have seemed obscene for the old farmer to watch as strangers pawed through what was so recently his private property.
    A pair of enormous cottonwood trees provided welcome shade for the house. These powerful trees, which were so large they appeared to be pillars that held up the very sky, must have been mere saplings when the farmer purchased this farm all those years ago. Trees that saw him through the Great Depression, listened along with him as the radio broke the news about Pearl Harbor, and stood and watched in silent awe as the first men walked on the moon.
    His children must have climbed those trees, hung a swing from their branches, perhaps carved their initials somewhere in the grizzled bark. Now, like everything else, the farmer had to leave them behind.
    Then I saw the old farmer. He was a weathered, leather-skinned sodbuster who was now obliged to walk with a cane. How sad this day must be for him.
    He had been married for more years than many people lived. Now his wife’s side of the bed was deserted, empty. And on top of that, this public auctioning of their property, their home, their lives.
    The old farmer was chatting with the young newlyweds who had become the next owners of his farm. The old farmer was smiling and joking; I even heard him give out a hearty chuckle. This took me by surprise. How could he be so jovial in the face of such profound loss, such stark change?
    But then I realized what the farmer had understood all along. The empty house would once again reverberate with the laughter of a happy, young family. Little feet would once again patter across the hardwood floors. Children yet unborn would climb the branches of the mighty cottonwoods.
    The white Gothic arch barn that had once housed his cows might become a stable for a pony. The cattle yard might be converted into a riding arena.
    Litters of puppies might be born in what was once the chicken coop. Perhaps the old farmer could see them running up to eagerly lick the faces of their young masters,m as long-ago puppies had baptized the faces of his own children.
    As the farmer talked and laughed, I caught a certain gleam in his eye. His was the expression of a man who was content, happy; his smile was that of a caretaker skillfully and lovingly tending his fields.
    And then I remembered something. Some crops do their best when they are sown in the autumn.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.