The farm where I grew up was 320 acres, a half-section. That meant that the “back sixty” field lay a mile south of the farmhouse and buildings. My jobs as a youth included the best jobs in driving the tractor—disking, harrowing, windrowing hay and straw, pulling the wagons back and forth. Those jobs didn’t involve a lot of skill, but there was pleasure in getting them done. Then I was often by myself, when Dad had other work to do, and now I find myself in memory, in the back sixty as the darkness of night approaches.
In those years “pole lights,” as we called them, were turned on by hand. Ours was a large incandescent bulb, maybe 250 watts, hanging about thirty feet up one leg of a tall windmill. Large sodium vapor lamps, and other automatic all-night lamps, had not yet brought to the countryside a crowd of bright lights to overwhelm the exquisite starscape of night.
Looking over the fields, no other pole lights would usually appear. The lights of distant neighbors would be blocked by the woods that grew along the river that wound through the area. When the time came for me to quit, when I had not finished before dark, the pole light would provide my cue. The planets and stars would begin to show up in the sky, and that one pole light would shine from my home. It would signal the end of work, the supper table nearly ready, and the time to turn toward home.
In the darkness, from a mile away one small light served as a beacon. For the next twenty minutes, riding the Farmall H or the John Deere A, following the farm lane north across the prairie, crossing the river bridge, opening and closing the gates that enclosed the cattle, the light beckoned—warm, inviting, reassuring, promising comfort, hunger satisfied, thirst quenched, and rest.