Tuesday, 8 April 2008

April on a Croft in the Fifties

I haven't had anything to say about my bit of hillside since my last extract from Wendy Wood's book - it's been cold, wet and miserable and I have not been at all inspired - but, nevertheless, it is time for an April look at croft life fifty years ago. And what a wonderful passage this is:
"In a town many a person stops to watch a man at work digging up a pavement or a road; and here at home I find myself ready to 'stand and stare' at the first ploughing of the year without sense of time. It is not only because it is so fundamental, but also because there is so much movement to it. All winter the still, flat field has been without much interest, for only an occasional crow or a few sheep have crossed its dull surface, but when the plough scrapes in at the gate, the field wakens to know that is it springtime.
There is a great deal of preparation and adjustment before the shout of the ploughman starts the great rhythm of moving earth. The horses tuck their heads in and sinews ripple under their glossy coats, the great hooves plod to a hidden tune, the traces strain, and behind them the coutler cuts the green turf like the prow of a ship, while the following share lays aside the regulated waves of shining furrow, a slow, inevitable march of rising, turning slabs. Behind them the ploughman paces, exact in his skill, his body bent intently, the muscles strongly modelled on his bare arms. At his back, high and low in the air, are the swirl and dip of the white-winged gulls and the hoodie crows crying their joy at the treasure that has lain too long in the winter-locked larder. A lark rises, pouring the silver of its treble to fall like narrow ribbons on the dark broad bands below. The dog dashes round the field barking, his eyes glistening with a fever of excitement at the wakening earth. High above, the clouds move majestically across the inverted blue fields of the sky, and between the two an eagle soars remote. The air is warm, and as I lean over the stone dyke my body relaxes from the tenseness with which we have fought the cold winds of winter. There is a faint scent from the newly turned turf, reminiscent of the smell of uncooked plum pudding. Somehow this is not just an ordinary ploughing; it is symbolic, a ceremony, a saga; with delight akin to pain I sense the hidden significance of brown earth. It is small wonder that I sing on the way home."

Wonderful! And as so often in these extracts, a glimpse of a world not that long ago but completely unfamiliar to us now. Oh, how I'd love to see horses ploughing the fields round my house.

Two of her remarks strike a familiar chord though. That feeling of a body constantly tensed against the cold is one I've felt myself, and the physical frustration of a late Spring holding back the release of all those tensed muscles is palpable this year. And her description of 'delight akin to pain' also reflected words I've written in my own journals. Here on the hill, sometimes when I look out across the firth, and the air is full of birdsong, and the Sun is warming my back, I have declared the scene to be so beautiful that it's almost painful. Her remark is so similar to mine that I think there must be some deep genetic memory at work. A glorious Spring to you all!

1 comment:

PG said...

That was a lovely extract and I know exactly what you mean about tensing against the cold - as I hurriedly dressed this morning, adding jumper, thick socks, and beanie...(no central heating, good but uncomfortable!)

(I have added you to my rss feed, I keep forgetting about blog catalogue)