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August 18th, 2009

PRELUDE TO THE HARVEST

My good fortune to have been born into a world of self-sufficiency (though it was post World War Two) continues to influence my life both personally and professionally. We lived a non-modern life: no flush toilet, no car; no electricity for the first 6 or 7 years, and no road to the farm unless one walked or rode a horse or tractor. Learning began at home with mother and father.

Starting at age four I walked (a mile or two) with my sisters to the proverbial two-room schoolhouse with its productive gardens (for school lunches) and its composting toilets. We had our biannual visits to town to see the dentist- an enormous undertaking for my mother. If we were lacking anything we were unaware of it. To this day my sisters and I speak of our lives on the farm at Felin as idyllic.

This story of The Harvest….. is one of many stories that emerge from that life and time, though its relevance to today is not archival. There are rich experiences here that inform my  life now, in this time of chaotic change, as we move toward creating a new pattern to live by. Stories serve to illustrate possibility, of other ways of being in the world that are rich, appealing and balanced.

I have lived many lives since that time in great cities, in their cosmopolitan arenas, and yet it is this early life that imbues it all with meaning, that which I polish every day as if it were a precious stone.

HARVEST

His figure, a dark sturdy shape against the golden wave of wheat, moves as a dancer in easy rhythm with the scythe. The long curve of its blade, glancing lightly against a thick stand of dry stalks, glints sharply in the sunlight and a swath of sturdy stems fall to the stubbled ground, drawn down by heavy ripened heads of grain. He strides, arcs his body and swings, like notes in a lullaby its soothing and simple grace mesmerizing. The curved handle, an extension of himself holds the integrity of this movement, drawing blade to stems again and again. To his side, the felled and ordered row lies patiently in the heat of the late summers sun, waiting.

My Father Takes a Break From the Harvest & a Post Lunch Nap with His Cousin

My Father Takes a Break From the Harvest & a Post Lunch Nap with His Cousin

The beauty of the scene, like an impressionist painting, reins her in and she holds herself still, so still that the only movement is in her breath, her lungs catching up with this pause in her exertions.


In her hand a basket, the weight of it lengthening the already developed muscles of her youthful arms, heavy with food and drink that she is bringing to the field.

The scent of fresh baked bread refuses to be contained and her still-flared nostrils transport its fragrance, woven through with the fresh-mown wheat, into her lungs and her blood, into her cells and her body’s memory, out of the flowered cloth that wraps it in her mother’s love.

The soft worn cotton of her dress sticks to her skin as if thirsty, drinking in sweat from the uphill walk.  Socks, slumped around her ankles offer little protection from the sharp stubble that covers the distance between them. Today, her father’s high top, brown leather boots-his summer boots- could protect her soft skin, though her feet would slip and slide inside their spacious interiors as if on ice. Her legs remembered other summers’ rashes, painful abrasions and reddened skin halfway to her knees. She is torn between mission and memory, reluctant now, the excitement dimmed in hesitation.

The stooks he builds stand golden and graceful, like ancient and cloaked Japanese warriors, spread across the field. Taller than her father’s six-foot-one-inch frame, they are built of bundles of sheaves, in turn are made of bundles of wheat: stems gathered, as thick as a man’s hand can hold, then tied at the waist by a length of straw, tucked in at the end, a loose knot that awaits  threshing.


Loosely Stacked Stooks Drying in the Field

Loosely Stacked Stooks Drying in the Field

A broad circle of sheaves forms the base, standing on their cut ends, leaning into their neighbors for support, with enough air circulation to allow for drying, thick enough to support several  layers as the stook is built skyward. These small, circular, pyramidal field graineries will stand only until the grain is dry enough, taken down before voles and field mice, feasting on tender ears, build their homes inside. Before Monet can come and paint them, before the snow falls or too much rain ruins the harvest.

Some of the sheaves will decorate the church for Harvest Thanksgiving and fragrant loaves, shaped into sheaves by her mother’s hands will stand alongside them, filled with the meaning of  harvest.


Baskets of apples and pears, jars of honey from the hives, golden butter and more produce and flowers than can be imagined, will spill from deep-set ancient windows, rendered more jeweled by the angled light that streams through rich hued glass.


Familiarity links what she sees before her, the bounty of the land, the nurturing farmer, the weave of weather; and hope embedded within it. Hope that it will be a good harvest, that the community will prosper, and that abundance will transform the simple stone architecture for a few magical days, filling her senses with beauty, fragrance, and the texture of a communities’ hymns of celebration.

At once, alerted to her mission, her reverie interrupted by his pause, the weight of the basket suddenly too much, she swings it to the other hand with an easy familiarity.  Anticipation carries her: home-grown flavors tucked in the basket, salty, sweet and textured against the tongue. Her father’s appreciation, flattened stubble where they will sit, their backs against a tall stook, side by side, just the two of them; and the curve of the hill, the old, dark, mossy apple tree and the hedge where the lilacs bloom in Spring, the scent of it carried on the soft breeze of memory.


The Little Girl With a Lunch basket Full of Imagination

The Little Girl With a Lunch Basket Full of Imagination

It is quickest to cut straight through the field, though the hedges offer a soft grassy path along their base, it is twice as far. A deep breath, a sigh, she bends pulling on her socks, stretching them as far as she can toward her knees, then skips out boldly into the golden stubble, basket swinging.

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