Lammas Fields

This weekend a page turn in the diary brings us to August, and we enter the time of Lammas. Lammas, of ‘Loaf-mass’ in Old English, is the start of the harvest season, the first of three harvest festivals on the ancient calendar. Fittingly, the harvest of arable crops in the farm fields on my local walk had begun in earnest at the end of the week with barley, oil seed, and wheat all being gathered in. I have watched these fields turn increasingly bronze in the fine weather over recent weeks, though I have no idea how the yield this year measures up. The headlands and margins are mown first; a ribbon around the outer edge of the field, allowing access for the machinery and lessening the chance of a wide turn scything ‘weed’ seeds in to contaminate the crop. Then the foragers come, breathing clouds of dust, great cylinders of blades turning and eating up the field. Tractors and trailers race back and forth in accompaniment to the huge beasts, like attendant ants to a very hungry caterpillar. When the foragers move on, the balers come in; scavengers after the feast. The wheat and barley straw is hoovered up and compressed into square bales, placed in enormous stacks at the top of the field. The tractors often work late into the evening, making use of the long summer days, switching to headlights and floodlights as the hours shorten. At last the work is complete, and the activity moves on down the valley to the next patch; mower, forager, tractor, baler. But linger behind awhile, lean on the field gate and allow the sound and frenetic pulse of the harvesters fade into the distance. Wait. The field is not empty – this is when nature begins to return. Pigeons are among the first; plump grey birds growing ever plumper on gleaned grain. Rooks too, and a covey of partridge that tiptoe out from the rough base of the hedge. A saltshaker of gulls, returned from breeding on sea cliffs and gravel spits on the coast, drift inland, stiff winged from a lifetime of headwinds. Kestrel hovers, dips, rises on the lightest of breeze, hangs on hover-point again. She seeks small rodents or lizards exposed by the clearance of the crop. The rough tussocky grass and hogweed and bramble reach, that washes up against the gateway, is alive with their small fast squeakings. We are a full month past the Summer Solstice and already the days are shortening, an evening cool whispers through the ash branches; there will be a dew in the morning to drench the ripening blackberries and haws. In the breath-quiet, a yellow hammer sings of a bread and cheese supper. Brown hare, as gold-bronze as the harvested crop, materialises in the evening glow and hops slowly across the stubble. I watch until the light grows too dim. Tawny owls set up their disputes as I turn for home.

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