The Gleaners

I’ve always liked this painting, The Gleaners, by Jean François Millet. It shows three women gleaning wheat in France. In the background one can see the farmer or overseer loading the heavy sheaves of the harvested crop on a cart stacked high. The women in the foreground are peasants, gleaning the fallen heads of grain. If you look closely you can see that each has a small fistful of wheat stalks but they are actually picking up stray seedheads by hand. It dawns on you that these are very, very poor and hungry women.

I was fascinated to read on Wikipedia that the public reaction when it was painted in 1857 was uniformly negative. The response was as if a current artist painted a beautifully moody oil of women pawing through a dumpster. It was seen as a political tract, a glorification of rural poverty particularly unwelcome after the French Revolution.

Lucy and I were gleaning in the school’s pumpkin patch yesterday. We were neither poverty-stricken nor hungry, but my cow Katika loves pumpkin, sliced up small with the sharp edge of a spade — so after the school’s pumpkin harvest we drove down to the patch to collect the frost-nipped, broken, or deer-bitten ones.

They were considerably easier to spot than stray grains of wheat.

We found fourteen big pumpkins. Katika, her steer calf Rocky, and the pigs will be snacking like kings.

Lucy also wanted to harvest apples from our own apple tree to make a pie. This apple tree is very old. I am guessing Scott planted it in the 1940s. When I bought the property the tree was half-smothered on the edge of the overgrown forest. Now it is on the edge of our north pasture. Most of the apples are small and scabby. Still, they are crunchy and sweet and the cows, horses, chickens, and pigs love them. I’ve even seen a deer standing on its hind legs, reaching up for an elusive fruit.

While I spread the last of the winter rye seed on the back acres, Lucy picked apples. I’d brought out a ladder but that was too wobbly on the sloping, rocky ground. She preferred the direct route.

She gathered a half-bushel and I imagine after supper this week we will be peeling and chopping for pies and apple sauce.

A nice, quiet day. I’d meant to go to church but by the time I finished milking in the morning I felt too rushed for the hour-long round-trip drive. Instead I puttered in the warm kitchen, baking whole wheat bread and making mozzarella cheese, while Lucy finished her homework at the kitchen table.

We collected eggs at evening chores and had egg salad on fresh bread, tomatoes, and roasted pumpkin seeds for a simple supper. Very peaceful and, to me, soothing.

It is slightly surreal to get emails from DH and think of him on the other side of the world, eating eels and raw fish with chopsticks.


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