The long days of Summer are beginning to draw in as we make our way towards Autumn.
The first harvest is being collected as the golden fields give up their gift of abundance and John Barcleycorn is cut down at the knee.
I always have mixed emotions at Lughnasadh. On one hand this festival is really the culmination of what it’s all about. On the other hand for me this marks the height of Summer, between Lughnasadh and the Autumn Equinox the temperature drops, Autumn begins, and the nights start to get noticeably longer. I’m a child of Summer, and you won’t hear me complaining about the heat we’ve been enjoying, so lengthening nights are never something I look forward to.
But let’s stay in the moment and honour the gifts of the Earth, honour the falling corn, with a lovely story from Cerri Lee.
A tale for Lughnasadh by Cerri Lee
“If you stand here for long enough all life passes you by.” he expounded sagely to no one in particular.
The golden barley swayed in the gentle breeze; The collective bearded heads nodding in what appeared to be, at least to him, considered agreement.
A large dragonfly hummed past skimming the heads of the barley.
“Well at least they seem to be doing alright this year,” he said to the world in general, “Its been a hard few years for them, well for everyone really, my oath it has! I don’t know, Summers are not like they used to be.” He rambled on in the time honoured fashion of old men who lean on fence posts everywhere.
“I remember a time when Summer meant warmth and sunshine, long hazy days with children running in the fields, and the happy sounds of bees buzzing through the crops. These days it seems to be one long winter with a brief break for rain instead of snow!’ If he could have shaken his head ruefully he would have done.
The Barley continued to nod thoughtfully as the sun beat down on the field.
“Mind you,” he continued informationally “there was a time when the fields where not so big and the weather was just as dodgy as it has been lately. I think they called it the ‘little ice age’, snow drifts up to your arm pits there was. So would seem to me the weather patterns are up and down like a doxies bloomers, if you take the long view, not that I know much about doxies you understand” he said and chuckled.
The barley pointedly said nothing on the subject.
A pair of sky larks rose up out of the field and began to sing incessantly flitting back and forward, landing on a post or taller plant here or there, then rising up again, renewing their frantic song.
“Whats got their tails in a twist?” he mused.
If it had been possible he would have craned his neck for a better view into the barley, but instead he settled for a guessing game as to who had disturbed the little pair. “Might be a stoat or could be a weasel, or might be one of them cats from the farm yard wandering about causing trouble.”
The birds seemed to quieten down after a bit and settled back into what ever it is that skylarks are want to do.
“Oh, whatever it was has got bored and left them alone. Well that’s my bit of drama done for the day then” he sniffed disconsolately.
Presently a cat came sauntering out of the barley and stood in front of him. “Ah it was you was it?” he said. The cat looked up, eyed him suspiciously, then sat down to lick its paws and clean its face.
“I hope you haven’t been murdering any of those little fledglings,” he said reproachfully to the preening cat “I have been watching them grow all season and I have grown fond of them little tikes.”
The cat ignored him and continued to clean assiduously before finally standing up. Then with a flick of its perfectly groomed tail, aimed in his general direction, it stalked off.
“Charming!” he thought.
The sun was high in the sky making the shadows cling close to their makers; the air was still leaving the barley almost motionless.
“I am glad of this hat to keep that sun at bay, battered and torn it may be, but there was never a better hat than this. Had it for years I have. And this old jacket too, though the buttons could do with a bit of attention, hanging by a thread one of them, but still, it keeps out the worst of the weather.” He assessed his apparel with some pride.
“I dare say some as would venture it is a bit the worse for wear, but well, it does for me working out here in the field.”
The sultry afternoon wore on, the shadows lengthened and he watched as the light began to throw an orange glow into the golden barley.
“You are ready old friend, I know that colour in your beard. You and me John, you and me, we will take that long road together.” There was a wistful note in his words and the barley seemed to whisper an accord, and, as if to echo the sentiment, a crow issued out over the field, a long, low, throaty call.
“They will sing to you old friend, that they will. There where three men came out of the west, their fortunes for to try……” He sang with a dusty voice. “I love that song, that I do” he laughed.
“But no song for me, eh John? No song for me.” There was no bitterness in his words “I don’t mind, really I don’t. I love my time here, and like you, I will be back next year, though I would like it if they would sew my button back on, maybe patch up these trousers a bit. Them mice have made fair ol’ mess out o’ them this year and no mistake.”
“Come on Daddy, I want to see ol’ Charlie.” The scruffy child ran ahead of her father who was walking slowly through the barley, feeling the heads and sometimes bending to smelling them.
“I’m coming; ol’ Charlie’s not going anywhere tonight, is he?” he called and continued to amble through the field. He was taking his time, drinking in the atmosphere, the marmalade light, the smell of the barley and the earth, it all made his heart sing.
“Come on” the impatient child urged. Her father laughed as he looked to see where she had gone. He looked in the direction of ol’ Charlie’ and saw the barley moving under the onslaught of the robust and determined six year old.
“Look Dad, there have been mice living in his pockets again. We will have to get Mum to sew them up.” The girl looked up at Charlie for a moment, then turned and threw her arms around her Dad’s legs.
“We will make him again next year wont we Dad?” her face almost pleading.
“Of course,” He confirmed “you can’t have John Barley Corn alone in the field, wouldn’t be right!”
“And we will still burn him when we cut the fields, just like last year?” she looked so seriously at her father he did not laugh.
“You know we will, he has to take our messages and gifts with him doesn’t he?” The farmer said “It’s what we have always done on this farm, when you make a bargain you keep it, especially if it’s with the one who keeps you in food and lodgings, it doesn’t do to make Her sad by forgetting your promises. We will make sure his hat and clothes are nicely cleaned and mended for next year, but the rest of him will go on the fire, and, this year I have decided to write him a song to send him on his way. Now come on lets get back your Mum will have tea on the table soon and I am starving, race you!”
Ol’ Charlie watched as the pair ran back across the field, “My own song eh? Well there you go, did you hear that John? I will have a song after all.”
A fat pigeon came down and landed on his arm which creaked under the weight. The bird eyed the field, “And you can bugger off an all” said ol’ Charlie.