Darrell Miller rested in a pool of soft afternoon sunlight between the family farmhouse and the barns where his machinery stood ready for the harvest.
Dragonflies and swallows patrolled his fields of ripening corn and soybeans. Grasshoppers bounced and thudded. Locusts sang from nearby oak groves.
In this most peaceful of moments, two sentences clawed at Miller's mind:
"This is it! We're wiping you out!"
If the bankers come, Miller is sure, those are the words they will use to drive him off the land his family has farmed here for 71 years. He thinks about the words constantly.
The "bank boys" have not come -- and may never come. But, like thousands of farmers across the Corn Belt, Miller is at the financial brink, his days haunted by the specter of foreclosure. A record national corn harvest of 8.47 billion bushels is driving prices even lower.
Bumper crops have driven farm prices down before. But never in the lifetime of today's farmers have supply and demand seemed so out of balance. For Miller, more than $100,000 in debt, it is increasingly hard to swallow the fact that his bounteous crop is about to push him further into the red.
"I'm sure there's going to be a lot of people wiped out before spring," he mused. "I could be one of them. I can't sit here today and tell you whether I'll put in a crop next spring."
Like many other farmers, Miller is exhausted by the contradictions of his modest life, choking on the success of American agriculture, the dollar's strength abroad and the resulting foreign trade disadvantage.
"I don't know how to think of it," he said. "An awful lot of us guys are as efficient as anywhere in the world. I know that 30 years ago, when I started out, hard as I tried I couldn't do as good a job as today, even though I don't have the energy I used to.
"I just can't understand that it's typical of government to take anything that's as efficient as the American farmer and that's what you eliminate."
Miller's share of this year's national crop is tiny. He farms several parcels of rich Iowa bottomland that total 640 acres, the classic midwestern "section" or square mile of land. Beginning in late April, he planted half the land in four varieties of Cargill hybrid corn and half in two varieties of 'bean, Prairie and Pride.
After a growing season marred by some dry spells in his part of Boone County, Miller estimates that he will harvest about 36,000 bushels of corn and 9,000 bushels of beans.
"I figure it takes about $3 a bushel to clear my costs for corn and $6 a bushel for beans. I'm not going to get anywhere near that."
At the grain elevator in Ogden, three miles north of his tidy farm, the posted cash prices bear him out: $2.15 a bushel for corn, $4.84 for soybeans.
If Miller were forced to market his harvest at today's prices, he would fall $10,440 short of covering his soybean harvest costs, and $30,600 short of his corn harvest goals.
That sum would be in addition to debts of more than $100,000 for machinery, storage bins and operating expenses.
Instead, Miller will store this year's crops on the farm. He is still paying off a $25,000 loan on the huge corrugated steel silos he bought in 1980. Part of the harvest cost will include several thousand dollars' worth of propane gas for hot-air blowers to dry the corn and soybeans to prevent mold in storage.
"Hell, you start with $50,000 to $75,000 in operating costs just to get the crops in the ground and harvested," Miller said.
With that much at stake, Miller has been buying crop insurance for five years in case a freak hailstorm or snowstorm ruins the harvest. Premiums this year: $8,000.
"Before 1980, I never used to do it. But now, I feel I can't afford to be without it because I've got so much money borrowed."
But the risk does not end with a safe harvest. Consider his predicament from 1984.
Last fall, rather than sell at low prices, Miller stored his 22,000-bushel crop on the farm. He was gambling that the price would go up.
In the meantime, however, he had no income. So Miller used federal price-support programs, borrowing cash against the stored corn at a guaranteed price of $2.43 a bushel. He was free to sell the corn if he could get a better price, repaying the loan and interest at 6 percent.
The price never rose. Last week, needing space for the new harvest, Miller began emptying his silos, hauling last year's grain to the Ogden elevator in 500-ton truck loads. But the loan agreement imposed a penalty for dumping his 1984 harvest without receiving a better price.
So Miller paid Uncle Sam a half-cent per bushel, plus an elevator storage fee of 3 cents a bushel, plus $6 for paper work. Cost to clear the way for the new, profitless crop: $776.
Financial tangles such as these have Joyce and Darrell Miller talking about selling out.
"I've been hassled about to my limit," said Darrell, a wiry, bespectacled man who is closing in on 50 years old.
As a Mason, a Methodist and a two-term Ogden school board member, his roots here are deep. He proudly shows a visitor the sturdy brick building where he and his father went to school; his sister's house on a quiet back street in the village of 1,500; the new high school where Susan and Kristy, the two younger of his three daughters, play in the championship marching band.
But trouble is everywhere at hand in the lush countryside 900 miles west of Washington. Some enraged farmers have agreed with bankers' suggestions to cultivate someone else's foreclosed farm and split the crop with the new owners, the bankers.
"I don't relish farming those places," one farmer said, "but I can't risk telling the bank 'no.' "
The national news media are scouring the Farm Belt for hard-times stories. The Miller sisters recall a recent visit from a Wall Street Journal reporter, who was interviewing rural high-school students about depression and emotional problems.
Miller knows these things first hand. "I suppose there's some way a person will withstand the pressure," he said. "But there's been times when you truly wonder if you can withstand it.
"I told Joyce it appeared to me that unless something turns around, then damn near all of us farmers are gone. And I think they're going to discover that the nation can't live without the farmer."
Miller was approving of the day-long Farm Aid concert scheduled next Sunday at the University of Illinois to benefit strapped farmers, but his enthusiasm was spare. "It's fine, but what good it can really do is beyond me. The thought behind it is great, but it don't look like they can muster up more than a Band-Aid."
Susan Miller, who will be 18 next month and has lived all her life at the farm, looked fondly over the familiar, gently rolling landscape.
"There's always good years and bad years on a farm," she said as the day drew to a close, its light and warmth slowly fading. "When a bad year came up, you'd notice it. But it would get better."
This time, she said, the bad time is terribly different.
"If you're one of the few who survive, you'll be lucky," she said. "It seems really weird . . . it would be like losing part of your family. . . .