As the season changes, so too does the light. Shadows lengthen. It’s hard to know if the autumn foliage of the prairies is really THAT brilliant, or if it just seems that way because of how the sun sits in the sky, slanting at just the right angle to pick out every hue. But of course, the light and the leaves must conspire. Nature is full of such beautiful conspiracies.
This is what a perfect autumn day looks like in the Deep South. It just so happened to be the day of a total lunar eclipse, when the entire moon is obscured by the shadow of the earth. Shadows and more shadows. But there can only be shadows when there’s light. And we have the best light anywhere.
Sylvan Valley Regional Park, near St. Victor. September 27, 2015.
Coulee at Sylvan Valley Regional Park, near St. Victor. September 27, 2015.
A view of Stink Lake. R.M. of the Gap. September 27, 2015.
Bulrushes/Cattails at dusk. Between Brooking and Ceylon, R.M. of the Gap. September 27, 2015.
Sun sets over the slough. Between Brooking and Ceylon, R.M. of the Gap. September 27, 2015.
Willow Bunch Elevator. September 27, 2015.
Fenceposts near Willow Bunch. September 27, 2015.
Foliage of the Wood Mountain Uplands, near Willow Bunch. September 27, 2015.
Abandoned homestead near the West Farm, R.M. of the Gap. September 27, 2015.
Coulee just south of Willow Bunch. September 27, 2015.
Coulees near the St. Victor Petroglyphs. September 27, 2015.
You, born on this farm and knowing no other home, not caring to even muse on such a thing
You who were free as the wind but who stayed for love and love alone.
You, illl-begotten get of Winnie, muttiest of mutts and the purebred boy-next-door.
You who were such a gift to us, adored by the world,
You of the aristocratic name – Cecilia, noblest of all.
You who saw every sunset and every moonrise on this farm since the day you were born (not counting those few days at the vet, but they hardly count)
You who knew every speck of this place, sniffed every scent there was to sniff
You who were too dainty and too pretty to bother with porcupine quills and would never dream of getting skunk sprayed
You who kept the coyotes away, even when I saw their eyes glowing in the darkness just across the road.
You who let strangers know they were welcome only if we said so
You who greeted old friends like old friends
You who needed to be by your master’s side
You, who would follow us anywhere and everywhere, even if it led to your death
You, who were everything a dog is supposed to be be, and more
You will run like the wind with Lizzie now, and howl at the moon with Winnie, and roll in the grass with Fiona and Ariadne, and chase cars with Javel and Shep and curl up near the door with Gus and bark at the coyotes with all the Nicks who came before you.
“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner.”
All life is a gleaning, especially when you’re a Virgo.
In the Middle Ages, when all agricultural work was done by hard labour, it was the women and children’s job to go out into the fields and glean. Every grain was precious in those famine-ready times. Nowadays, giant machines can do in one day what once took weeks. But still, there are gleanings left behind. No women and children out gathering them, except for me today.
Born in an exceptional year when harvest was already done (drought), I am nevertheless borne of the harvest season and so every year on my birthday I go out to gather my own small harvest. I like to have a bit of wheat around the house, if only for decorative and symbolic purposes. I take only a tiny amount from the field – that which stands at the fringes, or was missed by the swipe of the combine. There will be lots left for the geese when they come in their huge flocks next month. They are master gleaners. For them, like it was for medieval peasants, gleaning is a matter of survival.
For me it is nothing more than a past-time. A bit of a hobby. I’ve been fortunate to always be well fed. I work hard, yes, but not in the way the medieval peasants worked. I do not toil from dawn ’til dusk.
But even in this easy society I found myself born into, I have come to realise that all of life is work, or at least it should be. It’s a constant gleaning, a continuous methodical gathering of information, of facts, of flotsam, of flashes of insight. It is about taking the time to bend and stoop and squint and figure out what is good and what is not. To not take everything, but to leave some behind, for the geese, for the wind, for the earth to break down and absorb. For the poor and the travellers. To glean is to find out who you are and what it means to be you in this world. And to try to be the best you can be.
Driving on an unfamiliar road far from the Gap, yet still very much in Saskatchewan (though drifting close to Manitoba). Different landscape, different cultures who call it home, different cues to those cultures. A rich, gently undulating landscape. The land had a feeling of weight to it. Farms nestled in stands of natural aspen and birch. An abundance of water in creeks, sloughs, full-fledged rivers (the Swan and the Assiniboine) And then all of a sudden, this. A church in a community that looks to be in its death throes. But I know better than to think all tiny towns are dying. They are as full of life as the people who choose to live there still. And yet this church, this church, as well as the grain elevator peeping over its shoulder, might be nearing the end. It stands straight now, but what is its future?
There’s something about harvesting at night. When you know a landscape, you know its lights at night: the various yard lights punctuate the darkness. And so when there are bright lights where there is usually only the dark, you know a farmer is out there working. Rain is coming and so they work long after nightfall. The harvest late shift.
I see lights as I drive home, and I know they are in our field since I know where all our fields are, even when it’s dark. In the yard there are more lights where usually there are none. The bin yard is illuminated by the headlights of two pick-ups. The grain truck, which we call the “diesel truck” to distinguish it from the other grain truck, has its box tilted up. I hear the familiar sound of grain swishing down into the hopper where the augur’s whirring blades suck it up and deposit it into the waiting granary.
The smell of grain dust hangs in the air. There is movement and energy in the night, as there is always, but this is a more urgent energy, one powered by machine. Some might think it disrupts the quiet, but I am comforted by it. There’s something about it. Something that feels like home.