A random assortment of tinned food in a painted wheelbarrow
can only mean one thing: it’s harvest festival time. Like Proust’s Madeleines, for me harvest
festivals come laden with nostalgia.
Growing up I always loved these events: the dappled evening light on the
display of produce; the smell of bracken filling the room; counting the copper pennies
to see if I had enough to buy the can of crème caramel dessert in the sale of
goods afterwards (I’d have gone for the giant loaf of bread baked to look like
a wheatsheaf but my mum said it was only decorative, not to be eaten, so what
was the point of that?!).
Perhaps most evocative is the phrase ‘harvest-home’. As a child, it intrigued me. What did it
mean? And why did my eyes well up every
time I uttered it? I’d stand by my
grandmother singing non-conformist hymns about reaping and garnering and
bringing in the sheaves that I didn’t really understand but I liked the jaunty
and sometimes dramatic tunes (‘They shall rise up with wings…They shall rise up
with wings like ea…gles!’). Then there
would be a line such as ‘Raise the song of harvest-home’ and I’d unwittingly
respond: a chill down my spine, a flush to my cheeks, tears in my eyes. I could never figure out why.
Twenty-odd years later, I’m still not sure. According to the Oxford Dictionary,
‘harvest-home’ is ‘the gathering in of the final part of the year’s harvest’ or
‘a festival marking the end of the harvest period’. These definitions seem well and good, but
they don’t explain why the phrase evoked such a strong visceral reaction in me
– and continues to do so today.
The saying ‘harvest-home’ touches a deep part of me,
somewhere beyond logic and reasoning and rationale. It reaches down into a place of knowing, a
place where understanding isn’t about words and explanations but experience and
connection. It also reaches out, out
across time and space, through centuries and surpassing borders, giving me the
sense of gratitude and reassurance that surely touched all those workers who
over the centuries felt relief when the harvest was safely home for that year.
Harvest-home tells me there is enough, there is plenty,
there is abundance. Everything I need is
gathered and stored, available for me to access when I need to over the cold,
dark months ahead. I don’t have to keep
working for it or striving after it; whatever nurtures me is now home. I can rest.
There is enough.
This isn’t necessarily a religious message, although it
could be interpreted that way. For me, harvest
and its harvest-home culmination are not simply part of the natural cycle,
although that is important. Their symbolism
goes beyond what they literally mean, representing much wider metaphors about
life. From ripened hedgerows brimming
with berries to tinned food freely given to help those who need it most, collected
in a painted wheelbarrow, they speak to generosity and satiety and fulfilment. Harvest-home reminds me that there is enough.
In a world where we are endlessly encouraged to consume and
compare and continually crave more – always more – to recognise that there is
already enough is a radical move. And my
call for this week is to do just that: spend the time recognising where there
is enough in your life, both literally and metaphorically. From food in the fridge to petrol in the tank,
moments of connection with strangers to times of intimacy with those you love,
let’s sink into the enough-ness of our lives.
Let’s recognise when we have enough, then treasure it, celebrate it and
share it with one another.
Let’s raise the song of harvest-home.
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