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      An Online Edition

edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers

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Saturday, June 6, 1914

[The Nativity of Bread]



     The Cardinal, a magnificent optimist, with whom the future of the farm is almost a religion, flew like a blazing arrow across the square and alighted on the rim of the Fireman's tiny lake, where several pigeons and sparrows were already enjoying the cooling spray.

     So loud and clear and jubilant was his greeting that it was a real cry of joy. The scarlet of his wings reflected in the ripples was a delight to all beholders. He had their entire attention at once.

     "Reaping has begun," he told them, "in the fields first sown, where the grain stands rich and ripe. It is a good season for reaping."

     "I am glad it is a good season for something," said the Gray Pigeon. With the ground cracking in the heat, trees dying of drought and crops and weeds together wilting and drooping in the glare, it is not usual to hear any good spoken of the weather."

     "There is this," said the Redbird. ["]Nobody's hay or oats has been ruined by rain." And he went on to tell of the harvest.

     "Between the velvety blue hills lies my sun-kissed valley, watered by a clear spring-fed stream. In the midst of its pastures and plowed fields of sprouting corn the acres of wheat are spread in gold, brocaded with wavering silvery lights, a gracious and splendid robe cast down before the summer's advancing feet.

     "How wonderful it is that the dark earth should pour so much true gold from its heart, untarnished and unstinted! So smoothly woven, so richly dying is this mantle that flows over knoll and hollow dale in a pattern of watered-silk sheen. At evening it shows a more opulent yellow than the sunset--a rich and wondrous fabric, the very garment of plenty.

     The grain stands ripe, every stalk perfect in its light strength and grace, erect and slender, flame-pointed, like a thread of burnished brass, seeming at moments to change and glow, to kindle and to burn. Bob Whites run through it in all directions, rising at intervals with a startling whirr.

     "Early yesterday morning the reaper and binder, drawn by four brown mules, whose long ears flapped lazily with each step, began slowly to circle the broad yellow expanses. Its driver, in felt hat and overalls, rode one of the mules; another man sat perched high behind the machinery of sheaf-binding. The field lay a lake of shimmering gold, unbroken except where, in its distant center, a solitary magnificent hickory rises, its dull green dome oddly dark by contrast with the grain's ripe splendor that has grown bright as the tree grew darker till it stands like something solidly carven and set up to mark the center of the reaper's narrowing circles.

     "'Bob White! Bob White!' As the clatter of the machinery went round, flocks of birds flew up and over; field-larks dropped into the wheat and disappeared like a stone into a pool; tiny yellow warblers hardly swayed the grass-culms on which they perched, and from every direction sounded 'Bob White! O, Bob White! Whitie! Whitie!'

     "Behind the reaper walked a company of sun-bronzed, sweat-drenched, blue-shirted lads by twos and threes, eating grains of wheat from their hollowed palms as they stacked the bundles into sheaves. One found a nest of young rabbits and tucked them away in his hat beside the water jug in the fence corner; another was talking in a slow, pleasant southern voice, laughing and showing his strong, even teeth. 'Know how to cook fraish wheat?' he was saying. 'You take 'n pestle it in the pot and bile it tender. You don't know how good it is. Wheat is like taters--you can cook it forty way and it's a new thing every time.[']

     "By the gate of the field a group of children were playing, catching lizards along the fence rails, squealing as they rolled each other in the grass, picking sweet grains out of the ripe ears to chew. The oldest girl sat smiling and patient with a baby in her lap. He laughed and bounced when the reaper went by, gurgling and babbling those absurd sweet syllables by which a child feels its way toward speech, and displaying a treasure of six pearls in the coral cup of his mouth.

     "At last the day's work was done; the boys left shocking, the teams were unhitched and allowed to take their way stableward. Next day they will reach the hickory in the center of the field, and then the little girls will carry the reapers a basket of cookies fresh from the oven, and pitchers of buttermilk misted over with dew from the springhouse under the hill.

     "Evening fell, and the gathered sheaves stood still beneath the limpid arc of the sky. Lonely and gorgeous looked the field as I flew over, its abundance gathered into scores of dense and massive cones. The moon came up, a floating globe of massy gold, seeming as if transparent and filled with shapes of mysterious treasure half revealed. As I went to sleep in a tangle of vines I reflected that I had lived to see once more that mystical and poetic thing, the Nativity of Bread--an ordinary process enough, but invested by its very necessity with the mystery and dignity of origin. The harvest of today is as in the beginning one of the two or three main supports of human life on the planet, simple and grand as it was to the first of cultivators. I have seen again the primitive nobility of labor in the field, the earth-sweet ancient opulence of harvest, the gladness and the beauty of the dark earth-mother; and once more I attest that life is good."

 

 




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