Saturday, October 8, 2011

RICE: An Ode to Autumn, with thanks to John Keats

Perhaps because we are in the autumn of our lives or perhaps because it is really the season of plenty and beauty we are currently feeling blessed by autumn. This is the quiet time of the school term too. The curriculum is largely done and dusted and the exams are still a comfortable month away from the frantic activity that they will become. Leaves are starting to change colour and the mountains are glowing with the faint hues of red and yellow. The harvesting has begun and this has inspired a look at the whole cycle that we have witnessed and Ian has recorded, in the paddies surrounding our home in Rangjung and the environmental changes that have taken place in our vista as a direct result of this essential crop.

When we first arrived here things were decidedly brown and from our southern hemisphere perspective that was odd. With our winter rains (when they come) winter is the green season.

For months that didn’t change and the barren fields in front of our home were the playground of cows and horses and the prime location for archery contests on Sundays.

Then suddenly in about mid-May the paddies were transformed by a slow process that was incredibly man and woman-power intensive.

Only one motorized contraption appeared in all the months that followed and while that power tiller got a good workout, it was the oxen that did the brunt of the work.

What magnificent beasts they are.

For most of the short summer break and weeks afterwards we observed back-breaking labour performed with smiles and laughter and a good deal of joking around.

There was no shortage of work to be done but it was really after the hard yards had been completed that the stunning beauty of the crop came into its own.

Water naturally filled the paddies as the weeks passed and it was a miracle to me that at exactly the moment when it seem that it would never happen the monsoons came and the rice crop flourished.

The winds seemed intent on wreaking havoc but no matter how hard they blew the stalks straightened themselves out in the warmth of the afternoon sun and braced themselves for the next attack.

Even the cows returned to cheekily try their luck at getting their teeth into this prime fodder, but any passerby on the path knew to shoo them away and they never really got too much.

The wind, rainbows and changing light and water conditions all played their part in making our views from the living room a living, breathing and breath-taking vista.

And the rest of Rangjung was taking on an achingly beautiful new appearance.

The scenes have returned to energised and co-operative labour as the harvesting has begun. Once again there is a separate but essential role for each individual and great good cheer dominates the hours of enduring burning sun and never-ending toil.

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