Paradise is Sharing...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Memories of Harvest...

"Makes weak backs weaker, strong backs stronger..."  my Dad explained to the new crew as we gathered in the field on a frosty cold morning.  I've heard the speech at least twenty seven, maybe twenty eight times before... considering I was 37, and I was handed a knife for the first time when I was about ten years old.  Dad extended a knife to me, wooden handle first with a number 8 on it... "You've got knife eight"  ... he flashed a grin at my grimmace, and continued handing out the knife assignments to the rest of the crew.

I watched Dad demonstrate how you shave off the "side whiskers" with the side of your blade, and then "lop off the top" with the 12" machete.  I looked around at the crew - some characters were sketchy at best, Most in their late teens and early 20's ... a few 30's and 40's mixed in for good measure, and hoped these characters could be trusted with a blade that could be used to cut down a rainforest.  It takes a special kind of someone to answer an ad that says "Farm work - $8.00 an hour"..

I bent my knees, extended my back down the rest of the way, and assumed the position I would likely be in for the next 8-10 hours.  I reached down, pulled up the first rutabaga of the season, shaved off the side whiskers, turned the root vegetable expertly and lopped off the top.  The vegetable landed with a thud in the middle of the four rows the eight workers were leapfrogging down.  I tossed the greens to the side, and reached down to pull the second rutabaga of the season.  Just a million friggin trillion tons to go...

About mid-way down the row, I passed six workers and was far ahead enough to feel I deserved to stretch my back.  Slowly, I rose from stooped over to standing, my lower back protested.  I pressed my knife flat against my lower back like a stretching board and leaned back.  Looking down the row, I saw my father working faster than men a third his age.  Heck, he was twice my age and was kicking my ass.  As he cut, he talked politics, farming, hunting and fishing.  I knew all his stories by heart - I've heard them at least 100 times.  Each time, the fish got bigger, the bucks antlers got larger, and the politics... well, the politics were always the same -against the farmer. 

I took a final stretch, and continued to pull, cut, toss, pull, cut, toss... until I got to the end of the row.  I then turned around to help the next guy finish.

At break, we all gathered around the tractor,  stretched out on the grass, and moaned at our aches and pains.  Dad pulled out his lunch pail and tossed me an apple.  Without even thinking if I wanted the apple or not, I bit into it, marveling at how awesome apples tasted when out in the patch.  Dad started chatting about current events, the going-on's of town politics and what ever else came to mind.  The crew who had never heard his stories before were grandly entertained at his storytelling talents.  I still laugh at the punchlines even though I've heard them all before.  Resting back and letting the sun hit my face, I felt tired, but good.  Tomorrow, my back will tell me a different story...

 The rutabaga patch (all fifteen acres) was one of the first places I experienced accomplishment.  Eight workers would chip away at the field, pulling by hand row by row... and would exit the field each day with two wagons of two tons of rutabagas.  By the end of the day, I could not stand up straight, the backs of my legs howled, and my left arm felt like it was going to fall off.  Most of the time, I would opt to walk back to the farmhouse, watching the moonrise, and seeing my breath fog in front of me.  By the last day of harvest, looking back at the wasteland of greens and rotting roots, you felt like you accomplished something.  My Dad would throw a party for us - with pizza, beer and music.  Having that field harvested and in the barn was enough to make me want to cry.  My muscles could take a sigh of relief, and I could stand up straight once my back understood that new concept.

Since then, although I work hard - very hard - I have never felt I have worked as hard as I did back then.  And while I have accomplished amazing things .... the sense of accomplishment I felt when we pulled that last rutabaga and tossing it into the cart hasn't compared. Maybe it's because all of those years of harvest really did make "strong backs stronger" and my back is strong enough to reap what I sow. 

Every Autumn, although rutabaga harvest is a thing of the past, the colder days always remind me of a time of back breaking work.. smelling the combination of cut rutabaga greens, earth, frost and dirt... of being muddy, sweaty, exhausted and more sore than I've ever been.  Memories of harvest remind me that my back is indeed strong enough to reap any harvest that I sow.  What ever I tend, nurture and grow, I am strong enough to harvest.

I've got knife eight.  Thanks Dad.   

Paradise is Here, Paradise is Now.... Paradise is making strong backs stronger....

1 comment:

  1. It really was a way of life to work hard. Those are treasured memories.


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