A tempest of autumn cleaning has hit the ancient house this October. Beginning in a modest way, with a re-ordering of the larder (a long room that began its days as the farm dairy) it swept on until rotten window frames were exchanged with Simon the joiner’s perfect replacements, and Keith arrived with paint and ladders and me with a fine brass door knocker. The sun shone with some enthusiasm, and the ash leaves began to sail down.
David the gardener, who knows what he’s doing, swept aside my sentimentality and lopped a gawky shrub down to size, opening up a new view. The white cat, who loves action in others, purred throughout. It was on the first free morning after the brushes and saws had vanished, that a hare came to the lilac tree and stared around.
The Kestrel potatoes have been lifted and placed in a dark box. They scrub up into a delicate pink and may see me through to March. The air smells of lifted onions, miles and miles of them, and also of the mere hint of decay. There is something satisfying about all things passing, even us. Considering the appalling things many of us achieve in a comparatively brief existence, what a mercy it is that we too must go.
Ramblers clamber over the hill, and a Muntjac makes himself heard in the thinning wood. Hornets have to be let out of the bedrooms; I’ve never quite discovered how they get in! They rage against the glass, threatening all hell. “None shall harm you”, I promise. “Have I not sent you on your furious way this many a year? You should be nesting in a hollow tree, not in a red-brick palace behind my vine. You have got above yourselves, great wasps!”
“But” they buzz, “we are sociable wasps, and, if you didn’t go mad at the sight of us, would do you a great service in the kitchen; we wouldn’t waste our mighty sting on the likes of you – unless, of course, you try our patience. Your invention of glass is a great trial to us as we try to get out; we are heroic, but pitiful. What a way to treat a guest; you should be ashamed!”
In the Old Testament Book of Ruth, we learn about the women of the field whose husbands die, leaving them widowed. With nowhere to go, Naomi and her daughter in law, Ruth, return to Bethlehem the House of Bread, where, feeling the weight of misfortune at the collapse of their foreign adventures, Naomi says, “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made me very bitter” (Ruth 1:20) only to find that her dead husband’s fields have been cultivated waiting for his return.
As for Ruth, the humble gleaner, Bethlehem’s corn is not alien for long, and her harvest is Boaz. So, all is well, not to say glorious; for their descendant would be none other than the Christ, son of David, descendant of a Gentile and a Jew. “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile” (Galatians 3:28) Paul says.
And so, as we celebrate our Harvest Festivals, do we now find them devoid of common experience? Are the sheaves near, yet far? Is “plenty” now something quite else?
Adapted from an article by Ronald Blythe, 2019, TS, PD
Featured Image: Ruth and Naomi, Jan Victors (1653) Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons