The second day of harvest is cut short by a supercell blowing in from the west. Colton prays that the rain will stray to the south as his wife, Lauren, looks on and their niece Carlee twirls in her own rain dance. (Elliot Ross) With yet another storm rolling in, the worry and stress weigh on the farmers who are eager to reap a crop that they have put nearly all their money and resources into. (Elliot Ross)
The Mertens aren’t sure how far back farming goes in the family, but their best guess is at least seven generations. Photographer Elliot Ross says he is one of the only children in his generation to have left the tradition. But he still remembers vividly the sensations of growing up on the rolling plains of Colorado.
“I miss the hoots of the night hawks that would whirl around the rim of the canyon just as the sun was disappearing over the horizon. I miss the symphony of crickets on late summer nights. I miss the massive thunderstorms that I would watch build over the course of the day and eventually explode in the evenings in the most awe-inspiring and often times frightening ways,” he said in an email.
In 2015, those storms produced emerald pastures as well as the biggest bumper crop that anyone in the family could remember seeing. It was that same July that Ross returned to Colorado, where he focused on capturing the Mertens family as they sank everything they had into the crucial July wheat harvest. His resulting work is a project named “The Reckoning Days.”
Andrew climbs to dizzying heights inside the new bin that he hopes will soon be full of wheat. (Elliot Ross) Taking a morning off from harvest, three farmers in their Sunday’s best stand in the threshold of the barn for a sermon at Cowboy Church in New Raymer, Colo. (Elliot Ross) A field of wheat blows in the wind as a storm approaches. (Elliot Ross) Combines kick up dust and spit out chaff as the sun dips below the horizon. (Elliot Ross) Chaff, the dusty byproduct of thrashing wheat, catches a ray of light as it’s kicked out the end of a combine. (Elliot Ross) From left, Jason, Kaleb and Jim partake in a harvest supper that consists of a main meat dish, two sides, a dessert and iced tea or lemonade. Shifts are taken by the men in the field, ensuring that the combines never stop harvesting. (Elliot Ross) A semi-trailer is topped off with the last of the day’s wheat harvest. (Elliot Ross) At a local grain elevator, firefighters struggle to contain a haystack fire ignited by spontaneous combustion. (Elliot Ross)
Harvest took an additional week that season. The family and hired hands took shifts in the fields so the combines could perpetually harvest. But because of an increased supply on the market, profits were just average, Ross said.
Despite the unpredictable yields and need to adapt to evolutions in farming technology, Ross said the Mertens family has never given thought to leaving. “I attribute that to the amount of pride my family has for what they do, the connection to their land and being able to pass these skills down to the next generation,” he said. “It’s a way of life, and a great one at that.”
(Elliot Ross) Spring brought floods throughout the plains of Northeast Colorado. The water threatened homes and flooded low-lying fields, but at the same time nurtured the best crop of wheat in living memory. Here Cole stands at the edge of a neighbor’s flooded homestead. (Elliot Ross) Erika heads home with Paxton resting on her shoulder. (Elliot Ross) As with many farming families in rural Colorado, the Bible offers guidance and assurance through tough times. As the matriarch, Deanna often gives advice to others from these worn pages. (Elliot Ross) Deanna, who has lived on a homestead for over 75 years, is ever vigilant of the weather. She looks for signs of rain to the south and east as the sky darkens before retiring to bed. (Elliot Ross)
Elliot Ross is a photographer based in New York City. To see more of his work, visit his website or follow him on Instagram.
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