Far From the Madding Crowd
Don’t you just love harvest time?
My neighbour is the local farmer’s son. Like many another Heir to the Throne, he awaits the transfer of power. He has built a modern bungalow, in the local style, for his wife and family. It sits looking over a three acre rectangle of land. In the middle distance, it slopes sharply towards the river gorge. My inexperienced eye tells me it is laid to grain. Cereal; oats or barley. A rolling hillock, once green, now ripening gold.
Everyone except me, it seems, knew it would be harvested today. The small herd of cows who share God’s green acre with me; they knew. These plump, off-white, Charolaise, have been lining the edge of the wheatfield since early this morning. The birds have been gathering. Active and animated in their own groups. Gossiping and bantering, lively and excited. They knew too. Jean-Luc, the middle aged Frenchman who is my eyes and ears in the hamlet. He knew. Before passing through my gate for his customary visit; I saw him pause, rub some ears of grain between thumb and forefinger, and nod sagely. He spent fifteen minutes struggling with my rapidly developing French, discussing the progress of my vegetables, but didn’t tell me. I found out when my neighbour passed my gate atop a combine harvester that filled the road from ditch to ditch.
I’m now sitting on my front terrace, watching my neighbour at work. Its hot and the sun is still high, although its early evening. Apart from Gabriel Oak riding on a combine harvester, it is a page straight from Thomas Hardy. I am drinking French Cider. Its bought from the local shop; its cheap as chips, and its dry, refreshing and wonderfully moreish. I think its so cheap because there are no expensive chemicals in it! The cider, and the scene unfolding before me, both suggest that I should be drinking the cider in an earthenware beaker, from the hand of the Farmer’s wife. I should be laying the dust of the long-standing barley I have just scythed through. But times have changed, both on the South Downs and here, in the Creuse. The farmer’s wife wears designer jeans, a vest top, and slingback sandals! My neighbour sports a baseball cap, throws his van at the bends way in excess of the national speed limit, and listens to the Kings of Leon. And its a one man job to harvest a field of standing grain.
But I can still admire the man’s knowledge and skill. Generations of Creuse farmers have contributed to the amassed knowledge and folklore required to plant by the Moon’s phases and harvest at the promptings of the seasons. Its still man and nature in harmony. I’ll just have to find another excuse for quaffing the cider!