Tag Archives farm

Harvesting potatoes

potato harvest

Grand-père worries about me. He worried about me damaging my clothes, or my shoes, or that I’d get dirt under my nails. I try to explain that my clothes are not so precious, especially those already with holes in. I tell him that I’ve had the same shoes for years and I’d much prefer to be wearing something I’m comfortable in. And as for the nails, I just looked at him in despair.

Often it’s my hair he worries about, as if washing out the twigs, dirt and dust is somehow a challenge for me. He’s particularly concerned about me getting dust in my hair. Maybe he doesn’t realise that having my hair in a chaotic and dusty state gives me an extra excuse for standing in the hot shower. It’s a gift to my aching muscles.

The concern bemuses me. Perhaps he thinks that I take ages to shove my hair in a bun, pony-tail or loosely plait it. I won’t deny that there’s a lot of hair to manage. I’m blessed with a surplus of long thick hair. But I’m not the sort of person to spend hours in front of the mirror.

His delusion reminds me of the Japanese lady I met outside Tutmosis III’s tomb in the valley of the kings, who was horrified when, after plucking up the courage to ask how I managed to make my hair look like a rose, I yanked out my bobble to demonstrate.

It’s genetics not skill.

For unknown reason, the potato harvest caused a sudden worry about the dirt and my nails. There’s dirt involved whatever you’re doing on a farm, not just the potato harvest. Oil and dirt covered my hands when I was cleaning the plough. We pulled out the twigs, grass and wire that the mechanism had caught, using knives from the 1800s because apparently such knives are better. When watering the poly-tunnel I pick up the yellow pollen which makes everything you touch yellow, which to me is much worse than simple dirt.

Anyway, to the important activity of harvesting potatoes. It’s quite a self-explanatory activity.  Potatoes live in the ground and you have to dig through the earth until you find them all. We used a digger to break up the earth. Then we picked up the potatoes with our hands getting dirt under our nails.

Potatoes are special though. You can’t just chuck them in a basket though. Before storing the potatoes, you have to lay them in the dirt for a few hours so that any insects go down into the earth rather than finding a home in the potato store. With three of us working together the harvest didn’t take too long. It wasn’t a big harvest, but it was sufficient to please Grand-mère. The local potato harvest hasn’t been great and she knows people who haven’t got any potatoes this year.

When we were done, I magically (with the aid of a nailbrush) managed to remove the dirt from my face and hands. Grand-père inspected my clean nails and seemed pleased no damage was done.

On a night so clear you could see the milky way


It was a clear night. The dusty track of the milky way swept across the sky, making me grateful for the quiet that comes from living deep in a national park. The stars never fail to make me believe in magic. They glittered, entrancing me to such a degree that I didn’t care that I was sitting on the cold stone slabs that pave the path by the vegetable garden. My camera taunted me. Could I remember how to take pictures in the dark?

Eventually I walked back to my bedroom, climbed between the sheets and fell asleep.

In the morning, after a breakfast of coffee and toast, I asked Grand-père for the morning’s agenda. He wanted to work a little on his cello, and so suggested, to my joy, that I could tend to the animals. It delights me every morning when I take the little electric car out, load it with the animals’ breakfast and drive out through the fields to have them gallop towards me with an enthusiasm that’s rarely matched in human kind.

Yet, not all rural farm life is so idyllic. Grand-père didn’t look up at me when he mentioned we’d also need to collect her body. He knew I was apprehensive.

He said, if I wanted, he would do that, because he knew I didn’t want to.

“I’ll go,” I said, not knowing where the sudden determination to be the one to bring her home to be buried came from.

He repeated that I didn’t have to. I said nothing.

Sheep, are fragile creatures; lambs especially so. We’d moved her two days before to a quiet, sheltered spot to die when Grand-père had said the end was inevitable.

I didn’t go to her straight away. Instead, first I filled my buckets and ventured out to the herd. The sheep were their usual crazy selves, focused only on the grain, seemingly oblivious of our loss. As usual, I shouted and pushed in order not to have my toes crushed by their stiletto like hooves. The smaller sheep scattered over the trough, whilst fearless others launched themselves at my knees. The donkeys watched on wearily as they always do. The goats had wandered off and I had to search through the woodland and grassland and rocky caves. I found them ravaging a sapling.

Then I drove the little electric car back up the driveway, and across into the field beyond.

“Fear of death is fear of what we might experience. Nothing at all, or something quite new.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Translated by Gregory Hays)

She lay on her side with the eye that faced up to me half open. I wanted to close it, but I didn’t want to touch her face. I took my time, first to gaze upon her, second to touch my hand to her curly wool and feel the residual warmth within her, and then to wrap my hands around her legs, rigid and cold, and haul her up into the air.

She was much heavier than I’d expected, and her head hit against the car as I struggled to lift her inside.