Monday, 4 July 2011

Harvest Lost

It hadn´t rained in a month, but nobody here was complaining. The fields had gone brown to match the khaki ground. The drains started stinking of dirt. Squadrons of flies arrived, outside and in. And sometime last week the farmers received a signal that we cannot hear, and the harvest began.

Paco, a little man, climbed into the cab of his John Deere combine and disappeared behind the controls. From dawn to 1 a.m. he was out there in the fields with a herd of similar city-sized machines, lumbering through the rows of wheat, rye, alfalfa, oats, soy. On each family´s era, their ancient threshing-floor, the wheat began to heap. The new-cut fields were corrugated with lines of straw, or chockablock with bales and rolls of green or gold, drying there in the hot sun until the men came back to truck and tuck them away.

It happens fast, the harvest. Once the flurry finishes, the farmers go off to the beach for a holiday, or visit their mums in Madrid. Or cook up a fine fiesta for mid-August. The fields stand brown and dry until the next planting goes in, starting in September. 

Even at harvest time, most of our farmers take Sunday mornings off, even if only to not interrupt the Mass with their roaring, clanking machines. After church this Sunday, out on the steps outside, Pilar asked me how we´re doing. "We are OK, but for the asthma, the allergies. Even Paddy is coughing," I said. "It´s the dust, the chaff off the fields. We could use a bit of rain, no?"

Her eyes widened. "Mujer, no! The harvest isn´t finished. Rain now? No. No. Later on. Once the barn is full and the door is closed."

Faux pas. Cut grain and straw need to lie and dry for a little while before they can be baled up and stored away. Wet weather during the harvest means rot and mold, a ruined crop. That´s why it´s so important to "make hay while the sun shines." 

And seven hours later, a season´s worth of wind and stacked-up cumulonimbus rolled in from the northeast and smashed headlong into Moratinos. It took only about a half-hour, but the sideways wind, monsoon-force rain, and repeated doses of horizontally-driven hail blasted the heads off the grain still standing in the fields. Beans and grapes, tomatoes and marigolds were shredded, torn away, flattened where they stood. Carefully tended garden rows were plastered with the leaves ripped from the fruit trees.

Our patio flooded. Flowerpots floated free. The power went out. The herb garden was battered flat -- the patio filled with the fragrance of basil, cilantro, thyme, and wet earth. The rain kept coming. Murphy came howling in through the window, disgusted and muddy. 

The sun did not go down for another hour or so, but nobody went outside.
We waited until morning to go down the street. Maybe, like us, the other families were busy indoors, sweeping and mopping up the back rooms and kitchens where the wind had driven water into every little crack and fault. They were reaching shoulder-deep into the drain at the bottom of the patio, into the brown, hail-chilled water, to open the clogged grate and let the backed-up water run away.

Maybe they were asking God why the rain came now, when the fruit was just forming on the trees and vines, and so much of the feed-crop was still in the field.  

I walked the town this morning in the usual white light of July, to see what the storm had done. The hail  had a sand-blast effect on northward-facing walls. The white paint Justi put on his house last week is spalled and bubbled on one side. The front of the Alamo, rendered five years ago by professional adobe artists, is transformed -- fine gravel lies all along the pavement out front, gravel that yesterday was part of  the street-side edifice. Now all that remains of the protective render is straw and mud, clinging to the adobe bricks beneath. The straws stick out now. From down the street, when the sun hits it, the abandoned little house looks furry.

The hail beat the windows of the little adobe house for sale on Calle Ontanon. One of the window-sills is slipping. Another good storm and its right angles will slip into curves and slide down the face of the wall. (I wish I could buy it and preserve its rustic beauty, but I just don´t have the wherewithal.)  

It was rain that did the most damage, tons of water suddenly dumped onto clay so dry it´s turned to dust. The tons of dirt we hauled up to the bodega roof in May unclenched and flowed, leaving  swaths of asphalt exposed. Streams flowed beneath the door of each windward bodega, soaking the walls and doors and floors. Another piece of roof collapsed into the derelict house on the way into town. The crack in its face is a bit wider, the lean a bit more severe. Out at the abandoned Fabrica de Luz along the N120, the center part of the house fell down. And out in the fields the dogs found rabbits and mice and a lizard drowned in the ditches.

The streets are littered with stones and dirt, leaves and branches.
The men were out today with their tractors, finding out how bad it is, saving what they could. 
It´s bad, Feliciano said. The grapes are ruined. A lot of the grain is ruined. The garden? The acre of potatoes planted with such great expectation?
He shrugged his shoulders and smiled his twinkly smile. "It´s the weather. What can you do?"    

These monumental storms happen every three or four years. They are part of the rhythm around here. This very blog opened with a monumental storm, if you go back to the very start you will see it there.

I asked for rain, and got a minor disaster.
I gotta watch what I say.  


ksam said...

Oh God...having just been thru all of there so recently...ouch! Kept thinking of the Meseta as I a watch some of the harvest going on here at home. Prayers, the only thing to offer from here.

Anonymous said...

Hi Reb

Enjoyed your blog as usual, tho' this one has a different character.

You mention that "the farmers received a signal we cannot hear". Many years ago I wondered about the farmers near me in the Scottish countrside, all starting harvesting or ploughing within a day or two of each other. I was told " We just watch each other closely!". Don't know if it was a joke.

The article by John Berger about the meseta may have something to say about this place and its extremes?

Jean said...

"I asked for rain, and got a minor disaster."
This sentence is making me happily crazy.
I hope everything goes fine in there anyway.