Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Handful of Summer

Wherever you go at the moment, the bends of the roads are edged in spilled golden grain. Flocks of birds congregate to pick up the free feast, and with their minds on their stomachs they may not see a car bearing down on them until it is too late, so extra caution is recommended. 

All night the harvesters can be heard working, and tractors haul fully laden trailers back and forth between field and collection point. We have one a little way outside the village, and it's refilled almost as soon as it's emptied. It is manned all day and night for weighing and unloading. At present there is a huge overflow from the two wide open stalls, covered to protect it from the drizzle. 

The normally quiet countryside is humming with activity, and this year is better than many.  Signs are popping up everywhere – ‘Vends Paille‘– straw for sale.  The fields are topped of the grain heads, then the straw is cut and baled, then the stubble turned in. It used to be burnt in lines of black and flame, very controlled, but the only fires now are when the machinery clogs up with combustible dust.  It’s been so hot and dry that the crops have turned a deep copper brown, glowing in the sunlight, darkening in the fine occasional drizzle we have today. 

The huge harvesters and the small balers move from farm to farm, which can cause a certain amount of consternation to other road users when the ways are narrow. ‘Convoi Exceptionnelle’ means get out of the way: there’s a massive machine on the move, built for open prairies, not Breton lanes. Wide, tall, and often pulling some other many-toothed apparatus behind it, it’s a danger to telephone cables. If you find yourself following one, you may suddenly discover a spirit of adventure, and the desire to find out what some other road has to offer. If it’s a dead end, you can always come back, by which time the harvester will have moved on; and if it leads somewhere, you may see some ancient dwelling you never knew existed. Either way you win. 

I picked up a handful of grain from the road, and it was warm in my palm. Corn or wheat, I’ve no idea: but it was fresh and dry, a sign of good things to come. 

It’s a pattern as old as farming; what goes into the ground will, if we are lucky, come out of it again, multiplied and ripened and in a form we can use. It’s that connection that we have lost, between sun and earth, seed and flour, but it was all there as a promise in the little fraction of the harvest that I held. Soon it will be the turn of the maize, standing tall and dense and darkly green, tassels browning and cobs ripening.  Some fields are already being turned again, smoothed out, drilled, planted with hope for a good autumn.

The weather has made up for its sulky spring self. The holiday makers have had a wonderful break, and will go home sun-warmed to their bones, leaving us to make the most of the rest of the summer. What’s good for the crops is good for the soul, too; because no matter how sophisticated our lives seem, nor how technologically crammed, underneath it all we are still elemental, and everyone responds to a little warmth after a cold season.