No Minister

The Harvest has passed (but we are not saved)

So that’s it. The last of the maize has been chopped and dropped into bunkers, pits and stacks all across the Waikato.

I’ve finished my first, and likely my last season, on the harvesting teams. As always with such work it seems that time has run much faster than a start last September factually shows. About the only slow period was in January as the huge machines were prepped for the coming chore and eyes closely watched the growing maize to pick the right time for gathering.

This time of year has always been celebrated, so let’s start with Bruegel’s classic from 1565.

Which painting inspires me that I should throw a Harvest Party for the men and woman I’ve worked with these long months.

At least those who remain. As things have wound down in the last two weeks the departures have gathered pace, as people leave for the fields of Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Britain and Ireland. The only exception to such destinations has been one guy who has left for the Mt Isa mines in Australia, where he will laughingly swap the little twenty ton crates he’s been driving here for two hundred ton dump trucks – for vastly greater money too.

This harvest has also reminded me of this incredible story from The Smithsonian Magazine of a Russian family that was isolated for forty years in a part of Siberia where they were 150miles from any other humans. They were only discovered in 1978 by a geology team exploring the area with helicopters, and even then spotting them was a fluke in the rugged valleys:

But, peering intently through his windscreen in search of a landing place, the pilot saw something that should not have been there. It was a clearing, 6,000 feet up a mountainside, wedged between the pine and larch and scored with what looked like long, dark furrows. The baffled helicopter crew made several passes before reluctantly concluding that this was evidence of human habitation—a garden that, from the size and shape of the clearing, must have been there for a long time.

A team was sent in on foot to investigate and what they found was even more astonishing than the cleared garden.

Slowly, over several visits, the full story of the family emerged. The old man’s name was Karp Lykov, and he was an Old Believer–a member of a fundamentalist Russian Orthodox sect, worshiping in a style unchanged since the 17th century. Old Believers had been persecuted since the days of Peter the Great, and Lykov talked about it as though it had happened only yesterday; for him, Peter was a personal enemy and “the anti-Christ in human form”—a point he insisted had been amply proved by Tsar’s campaign to modernize Russia by forcibly “chopping off the beards of Christians.”

And that was before the atheist Bolsheviks got stuck in:

Under the Soviets, isolated Old Believer communities that had fled to Siberia to escape persecution began to retreat ever further from civilization. During the purges of the 1930s, with Christianity itself under assault, a Communist patrol had shot Lykov’s brother on the outskirts of their village while Lykov knelt working beside him. He had responded by scooping up his family and bolting into forest.

Agafia Lykova (left) with her sister, Natalia.

But it was this part of the story that I was reminded of as we packed away thousands of tonnes of chopped maize:

Famine was an ever-present danger in these circumstances, and in 1961 it snowed in June. The hard frost killed everything growing in their garden, and by spring the family had been reduced to eating shoes and bark. Akulina chose to see her children fed, and that year she died of starvation.

The rest of the family were saved by what they regarded as a miracle: a single grain of rye sprouted in their pea patch. The Lykovs put up a fence around the shoot and guarded it zealously night and day to keep off mice and squirrels. At harvest time, the solitary spike yielded 18 grains, and from this they painstakingly rebuilt their rye crop.

Is that not astonishing? To be so much on the razors edge of life.

As of today only one member of the family survives, Agafia, now in her seventies but still living in the same place, with her God and her loved ones beneath the tiaga. But read the whole incredible story.

I’ll leave this with one more harvest image, this one from America, specifically Winslow Homer, and the description of it by one critic:

Homer’s canvas depicts a farmer at work, his back to us, his concentration focused on the work. The discarded jacket, knapsack and canteen reveal him to be a Union war veteran. His old-fashioned scythe evokes the Grim Reaper, recalling the war’s harvest of death.

But to counter that we have the golden field, the blue sky and the bountiful wheat being gathered in. This powerful image references both life and death – a meditation on a country’s sacrifices but also its potential for recovery.

Even though I’d merely filled some gaps in the workforce created by our country’s sacrifices during the pandemic I was asked the other day if I’d be returning next season, but I explained that I’m a very lazy man and they all work too hard for me. However, I’m sure that won’t affect our national recovery.

See also:

Rain and Newton’s Laws
Big Toys for Old Boys

Written by Tom Hunter

April 23, 2021 at 11:03 am

Posted in History

Tagged with , ,

4 Responses

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  1. […] The harvest has passed but we are not saved – Tom Hunter: […]

    • Thanks Elle. Hope your readers enjoy the artwork.

      Tom Hunter

      April 24, 2021 at 12:29 pm

  2. Well done that man!


    April 24, 2021 at 1:46 pm

  3. […] The Harvest has passed (but we are not saved) […]

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