Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wheat Harvest

Wheat harvest began as apricots fell thickly from the trees, golden on the bare soil of the barley fields, among the standing wheat – dark, swollen, piling around rocks in the flowing yuras.  Only six houses – including ours – had crops to bring in.  Most people in the village plant every other year, alternating with field peas.  The others spent their days on rooftops, pitting apricots and laying them in the sun to dry.

A stone had fallen from a terrace wall onto my foot as we moved the threshing machine, and walking was painful for me.  We slept those nights at Ache Tashi’s house, waking to drink hot water with her in the dim light of early dawn, and then going together out to work.

We arrived to Ache Konchok Palmo’s just as she finished harvesting her small, late plot of peas.  She must have started working in the dark.  Abi Dolkar had joined us on our way across the fields; Ama Thinlas came soon after, and then Ama Kunzes.  When the crew was all assembled, working quietly, sleepily, in the glow of rising light, Ache KP’s father Meme Angchuk carried out tea and bread.  Ama Thinlas had brought a tin of fresh, bright butter, flowing those days in incredible abundance from their home, arriving in tea in huge, melting chunks.

We worked all day, laughing, teasing, often singing.  “Nilza Angmo, yangsol sal-le, ju ju,” the amas would say.  “Nilza Angmo, please give the yangsol (the harvest-song call).”

Just before dusk, finished, the others went to move the threshing machine again.  I could hear faint threads of their shouting and laughter as I made a bed and lay down on the roof to sleep.

The next day of harvesting was Ache Tashi’s.  Twelve people came to carry the work, and her three fields were finished by the time the sun went behind the mountains.  Somapi zhing sngaata?”  “Should we harvest Somapa’s field?”  Our field was watered, and ready.  Gratefully, joyfully, I said yes.  Abi Dolkar left to bring back tea and chhang, and the rest of us began the harvest of the wheat that will feed us through this coming winter.

We worked until the dusk, then stopped to eat and drink as if the night were not almost upon us, and half a field still standing.  The grandfathers drank rum, finishing a bottle between them.  “Bring another like that, and I’ll finish your field myself!” Meme Rinchen boasted.  “I don’t have any!” I said.  He threw up his hands in mock fury, and began his unsteady way back across the village. 

Everyone else, undeterred by the growing dark, rose from their recline on the new-fallen wheat and bent to work.  “It will be easy if there is singing,” Ama Thinlas told me quietly.  Ache KP and I held the yangsol then, not letting it fall until the last handfuls were pulled, unseen, in the full-gathered night.

Ama Thinlas, Ache Kunzes, and then the harvest was done.  Heavy days came then, of carrying loads bigger than I knew that I could lift – golden bundles bound with ropes and borne through the precipitous labyrinth of the village.  Threshing felt brief this time, the crop so much smaller than the barley.  From the high path the village recalled spring to the eye – fields all clean, brown earth but for the trees in full leaf at their edges.

The day after Ama Thinlas’ wheat was threshed, Jason and I walked up into the mountains.  A week later, it rained – the first to fall since the flood, nearly fifty days before.  The grain was all stored in giant sacks in the lower rooms of houses – dry, safe, waiting to be ground for winter flour.

This year, no bombs came to Tar, as they did to Iraq.  No tanks, no trucks, no guns.  This year, no dam made waters rise around the houses, as it did in the Narmada valley.  This year has been a good one in this village; the work of living is hard enough when no disaster comes.

May there be timely rains
And bountiful harvests
May all medicines be effective
And wholesome prayers bear fruit

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