Friends from Essex write to say that they have almost finished harvesting. Their barley is all in, as is their rape and they are well on with the wheat. These same friends were so hit by drought early in the year that they doubted their crops would survive - but of course they have, and flourished.
Gone are the days when the life of the village depended on the harvest; when most of the men in the village worked on the farms and at harvest time roped in wives and children too in order to get in the crops. If they didn't then there would be a shortage of bread in the Winter and starvation was a real possibility.
I can remember the days when stooks stood in the fields to dry - they were lovely places to hide - and when men fashioned stacks with intricately patterned and thatched 'roofs' designed to keep the rain out. The farmer, who is considerably younger than I am, can remember them too. Now, of course, behemoths course up and down the wheat fields at a great speed, almost without the intervention of man at all. And they do this unless it is raining or has recently rained, because the wheat can be quickly transported to the drier and dried.
Now they are even breeding varieties of wheat with shorter and shorter stalks. As I said on Morning A J's blog the other day - this will make corn dollies, once such a potent symbol at harvest time, much harder to make.
And now we import wheat from the prairies of America and the giant fields of Russia and none of us gives a thought to where the grain in our bread comes from. We may still go to the Harvest Festival in our local church, decorate the windows with Michaelmas daisies, lay fruit and vegetables around the altar and sing 'All is Safely Gathered In' and 'We Plough the Fields and
Scatter'. But its meaning is more symbolic than it is a reality.
But of course there are many places throughout the world where it is still very much a reality, where failure of crops through the weather or through awful senseless warfare has meant pictures on the television screen in our living room as we are eating from a loaded table; pictures of wide-eyed children with bloated stomachs, held by skeletal mothers, while their menfolk are off fighting some senseless war or other. And the children are almost exhibited to the camera in a desperate effort to persuade viewers eating their Greek Salad and drinking their glass of chilled white wine, to part with some of their money.
The world has never been a fair place to live. Our accident of birth dictates the kind of life we are destined to live to some extent. But it does us no harm at all to reflect on how lucky we are as we gather in this year's produce and store it in our barns and fill our freezers, and sing our harvest songs.