A few years ago Marla bought me the above pictured book for a Christmas present. "The Worm Forgives the Plough" is a collection of agrarian essays written by John Stewart Collis. Mr. Collis was a Brit, born in 1900 and passing away in 1984. In the 1940's Mr. Collis was a farm laborer on a few different working farms in Dorset and Sussex England. The time and place of his writing are important to keep in mind otherwise his writings may seem a little odd.
Before I begin the essay it's probably important to explain what "singling mangolds" actually means. A "mangold" was/is a beet like root crop (sort of like a very large red beet or potato) that was grown years ago primarily for cattle feed. "Singling" refers to the process of "thinning" the crop. It's sort of like weeding only you are removing other mangold plants as well as weeds so that the remaining plants have enough room to grow and produce the large root crop that it is suppose to. This was all done by hand (with a hoe) and was a laborious job when you had acres and acres to do. So there was lots of time to think - thus the title of the essay...
MEDITATIONS WHILE SINGLING MANGOLDS
The period between haymaking and harvest is rather an uncomfortable one. We are between two world, as it were, one dead, the other as yet powerless to be born. Slack off then? Pause in well-doing? Far from it. Now is the time to get down to the remainder of the hoeing before it is to late.
There was certainly still plenty to be done here on fields of kale, swedes, and mangolds. In fact it was only now that we began to single the mangolds. The shoots, sown by drill, come up close together in long lines (rows). They cannot be left like that but must be given room to expand - that is they must be singled. About a foot must be left between each shoot. Thus while hoeing weeds away you also hoe out a vast number of plants - a wholesale destruction which gives one an uneasy feeling, for what good can come of these miserable little shoots you have left at such a great distance from each other? Frequently the shoots grow in pairs, and as it is impossible to use the hoe for separation it is necessary to stoop right down and separate them with your fingers. Thus singling is hoeing multiplied. I have not written enthusiastically about hoeing (previously), though actually at times I have enjoyed it. I cannot remember any time having enjoyed singling mangolds, and as I frequently had to do many hours of this alone, I again began to feel time drag. And again I was shocked at the contrast of my attitude now towards the clock with what it had been in the old days. For then I mused to think then that all I needed was time to get on with my work, and money so as to be able to do that work. For me the money was time. For the business man time is money. For the hoer money is not time nor is time money; to him time is simply an enemy. And when we go a step further and enter prison, we are confronted with the most terrible phrase known to man - doing time.
Still, while performing jobs of this sort I have come closer to understanding the history of mankind. How easy it is, I said to myself one day, how easy while singling mangolds to understand the rise and fall of civilizations !
He stood on the field, spade in hand, trying to till the soil. A hard job with only that implement. Se he invented a horse-movable spade - the plough. He stood amongst the ripened corn with a sickle. He could improve on that so he made the scythe; and he went on improving all his devices in his conquest of Nature - he was the first mechanic. And as he toiled in the fields, often covered with mud, or wet, or freezing cold, or his back splitting as he stooped over the mangolds, he began to think how wonderful it would be to get away from this struggle, to escape altogether from Nature. So he devised something more than a village, he built a large number of houses with intervening paths - a town. He went further - he conceived the idea of the Great City. How marvelous it would be, he thought, to make a place so vast in extent that you could not even see the soil, to make the paths therein so smooth and clean that you would not get a speck of dirt on clothes or boots, to see delicate women
walking along who did not know the difference between a bangle and a mangold, to have lights turned on by a switch and hot water by a tap, to have shops making a blaze of light in the darkness, to enter glorious buildings in which you would find entertainment and instruction, and great churches like jewels so that the eyes of those who gazed on them grew dim.
Gradually the edifice of civilization was set up - in the image of the countryman's desire as he stood not the desolate field. But as the years passed and generation succeeded generation the townsman began to forget that he had come from the country, and the countryman that he had made the town. And because the people in the towns were more comfortable and better-looking and with wider interests than those in the country, they began to feel more important and to despise the very people upon whom they relied for three meals every day. And because they felt important and began to look it, the countryman themselves were impressed and thought them wonderful. As the process went on it was the man in the street, the man in the city, the citizen, who came to be regarded as the only person who counted, while queer derogatory names were found for the men in the fields. The citizens multiplied immensely, became far more powerful than the peasants, and decreed that town wages should be much higher than country wages. Seeing how matters stood, many agriculturists cried "away from the land !", shook the mud off their boots, and joined the citizens.
As they walked through the everlasting streets they began to pine for the open fields, the the blessed sun, for the realities and simple joys they had left behind. They began to declare that civilization was rotten at the core and perished at the roots, and that nothing could save it except a great Unindustrial Revolution. Not only citizens, but "city men" began to say in their cups that their work was a farce and that they would rather "keep a pig". Intellectualists insisted that they were "really peasants at heart". A cry of "Back to the Land" went up, not from those on the land but from those in the towns.
And when at last they returned to the soil from whence they had come, they often found that it was no longer there. Their neglect had brought about such appalling erosion that Gobi and Libyan deserts now confronted their astonished gaze, while in other places whole cities were washed away by rivers swollen with water pouring from despoiled and abandoned forests.
Thus my meditation as I stooped over the mangolds. The same conception had occurred to me forcibly earlier in the year when one evening I suddenly felt a great desire to visit a town and dine in an expensive hotel. Changing my clothes suitably I went in. I found a very nice hotel. So great is the difference between the agricultural world and the world outside - a strange, dream-like, picnic of a world it looks from the field - that I blinkingly looked around at the lounge as if seeing such a place for the first time. The good lighting, the polished floor, the groups of clean and well-dressed amiable-looking people held my attention. I poked round the place, and finding a bathroom, entered it. Overcome by the cleanliness of the room I thought it would be grand to have a bath - and I had one. True, there was no bath-towel, but the bath-mat seemed to me startling clean and it would do - and it did very well. It was now time for dinner and I entered the dining-room and sat down. I was greatly taken with the spotless table-cloth, the seven pieces of cutlery (I counted them), the vase with the roses in it, the perfect floor, the paneled walls, the electric candlesticks. The other tables were occupied by miscellaneous people, all looking well set up, pleased, and expectant. Waiters began to come round, dressed in white jackets and black trousers. Four courses were brought to me with great expedition. I examined each plate in turn - very nice, one with a picture of watercress on it. I looked round at the smiling faces of the people, all wearing expressions not seen outside; and at a waiter bending over a group with the deeply knowing and confidential smile of a man who can produce wine. I looked at the foods that were brought to me - some meat, peas, greens, and potatoes. Doubtless they came from the land, but it hardly occurred to me to make the connection, certainly no one else in the room did so: the food simply came - no, not even from the kitchen, but from the screen from which the waiters, like magicians, emerged again and again. For this, I saw, was a dream place, not subject to reality. If a ploughman, I reflected, were to come into this room suddenly, as such, he would be thrown out, or "asked to leave". And that would be right. I would be the first to cast the first stone at him. It would be an unforgivable intrusion. for he would have broken the spell, destroyed the film and the fantasy of the agreed illusion, infringed upon the dream mankind as dreamt on the bitter field - this escape from Nature, this shelter from the storm, this palace, this paradise.
All the best to you and your family.
Stay warm my friends! !