It is the end of July this week-end and everywhere the tractors are busy in the fields; haymaking, grass cutting, baling are all going on as I walk down the lane. The one or two fields of barley in this mainly grassland area are looking ready for harvesting. Last week our neighbour was walking through his barley field pulling out the wild oats by hand while the other side neighbour was spraying his barley field with weed killer to give it a fortnight before he cut it.
In the implement sheds combine harvesters are being got out of the far corners, dusted down, oiled up, tinkered with and got ready for work. Round here farmers often share a combine between two or three farms and share the work too so that they all get it done fairly quickly. All the barley round here goes for cattle food.
I must say that one of the things I miss by living up here in the Dales is being able to walk through a stubble field. I remember them from my childhood in flat Lincolnshire - the pheasant, partridge and other birds scratching about for the gleanings, the hares loping about between the rows, the smell of the cut corn.
Of course it is not so long ago when combine harvesters were new fangled things. My uncle farmed in the Lincolnshire Wolds during the Second World War and he had a binder which was a great mammoth of a thing which went up and down the hills at a precarious angle. There would be a threshing day when all his corn was threshed. There would be a smell of smoke in the air, a lot of noise, a lot of dust and a lot of work for my Aunt Alice who had a whole lot of workmen to feed at lunch time. I went once and remember the dust and corn husks which got everywhere and made me itch like mad.
If we had to choose the harvest hymn we all know I suppose it would be 'We Plough the Fields and Scatter the Good Seed on the Ground". Almost every Harvest Festival Service begins with that hymn. I looked it up on Google and found it was originally a poem in German by Matthius Claudius (1792), set to music in 1800 and translated into English in 1861.
And that made me think of the Harvest Festivals of my childhood in a Methodist Chapel, where we spent the entire Saturday decorating the chapel. We would tie a string round the whole chapel and thread Michaelmas daisies through it. Every window sill would be piled high with produce and every available space covered. All round the pulpit apples would be precariously balanced and we would hope not to have a 'tub-thumping' preacher on the Sunday! Monday night there would be an auction of all the stuff and the highest price usually went for the wonderful sheaf of wheat bread loaf baked by the local baker. There would not be a tin in sight in those days - we hardly ever used tinned food because our veggie gardens had to provide the year's supplies.
Go back even further to my mother's generation and the women would glean the fields to collect enough corn to grind their own flour for bread making. Millet's painting "The Gleaners" is one of my favourites but before I begin to wax lyrical about that and those times I need to remind myself the times were jolly hard for the majority of the population - they really knew what hard work was about. Not like today's combine harvester drivers who sit in front of a computerised screen and let the machine do the field on its own.