Harvest: 2013 365 Challenge #225

Tractors on the road (wasn't driving when took this!)

Tractors on the road (wasn’t driving when took this!)

It’s harvest time here in the UK. I love the harvest. Despite the late nights, the noise, the dust, the traffic, the “mummy, a tractor, look!” a hundred times a day, it’s a wonderful time of year.

I followed a tractor and trailer home this afternoon, driving at 30mph. Normally travelling at that speed would have me cursing, dithering as to whether I should try and overtake, especially on a nursery day, when time is precious. But because it was a harvest tractor I sat back, listened to the radio, and enjoyed the rest. Every half a mile we pulled over to let another tractor through – our country lanes not being wide enough for two cars in places, never mind two tractors.

The drivers smile, even though they’ve probably had five hours’ sleep a night this week. They drive into the dark; their wide headlights lighting the hillside.

You can spot a combine harvester by the dust. Even though it’s a common sight, it still makes me smile. There’s something so essential, so powerful, about watching the beast of a machine sweeping up the fields, leaving bareness behind and disappearing in a cloud of dust like a camel running through the desert (not that I’ve ever seen a camel in the desert. That’s how I imagine it might look, anyway.)

Fields with a haircut

Fields with a haircut

Soon the fields will be ploughed in; changing from wheat-yellow to dark brown. The dog will come home filthy and some paths will be impassable. It looks like a better harvest this year. Last year’s wheat, especially, was devastated by the floods. Farmers lost half their yield and the price of bread shot sky-high.

As the land is managed on a three-field crop rotation, we’ve had some set-aside and some oil seed rape in the local fields this year. Maybe next year it will be potatoes. My favourite crop is barley. As Sting famously sang, the fields come alive in the sunlight and wind, rippling like a bran-coloured ocean.

I can’t imagine living somewhere with no harvest. It marks the turning of the season like no other event. My step-father used to work on a farm and harvest time we never saw him. He would be driving until 2am and – in the days before mobile phones – my mum would go out armed with a field map and lunch box to take him his dinner.

It’s an energetic time. Activity everywhere. On the roads, in the fields, round the farms and the storage barns. Scurrying mammals bringing in the food before the winter. We’re all squirrels at heart.

Harvest means the end of summer, too. The end of the school holidays in sight. The year running away like sand in an hour glass. This year is particularly poignant as it’s the end of preschool life for us. Harvest reminds us that the seasons change, the year ebbs and flows, life goes on. Hopefully I’ll feel like that once school starts in September!

P.S. I used pictures from my NZ honeymoon to write today’s Claire installment so had to include them below. There might be other NZ pictures in Claire posts for the next few weeks! Any excuse. 🙂

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire leant her head against the window in what was becoming her preferred position. A night spent back in Auckland had restored her equilibrium after the sand-boarding experience, although she had bruises on her bruises, and muscles she didn’t previously know existed still burned.

Amazing views, Coromandel

Amazing views, Coromandel

Outside the window rolling, undulating, forest views sped past too fast as the driver negotiated hairpin bends and steep drops. Claire was glad she’d slept rather than followed the others out drinking the night before. She suspected it might have otherwise been hard to keep food in her tummy with the swaying of the bus and the changes of scenery from green to blue, dark to light, forest to sea.

They arrived at the hostel all too soon and Claire reluctantly left her window seat to go and check in. Some of the group were leaving immediately to kayak round to a place called Cathedral Cove.

Deciding her muscles had received enough of a pounding for a few days, Claire had opted out. Gazing now at the blue skies still smiling above, she wondered it if was too late to change her mind.

“Any folks wanting a lift round to the Cathedral Cove, I’ll be leaving in a while. Come and meet me back at the bus after you’ve checked in, and bring your walking shoes.”

Claire gave the driver a smile and he grinned back, flicking his eyelid in a flirtatious wink. It had been a huge relief to get on the bus that morning and discover a new driver would be taking them down the east coast. Whatever had sparked the previous driver’s antagonism towards her, she obviously hadn’t made the same mistake this time. If anything, this one was too charming though she wasn’t going to complain about that. Not yet, anyway.

*

The view from the car park made Claire stare in wonder. Even though she’d watched the views out the window all day, nothing had prepared her for the brilliance of seeing it without glass. At first glance it was only sea and trees; but the depth of the colours brought out by the afternoon sun made the whole panorama shimmer.

They followed the narrow footpath down towards the cove. Every turn, every few minutes’ walk, revealed a new view. The sea changed colour continuously, from navy blue to steel grey and back to aquamarine. Islands lay scattered across the bay like Russian dolls.

Gemstone Bay

Gemstone Bay

A few minutes further and the scene changed again: this time, white cliffs could be seen between lime-green ferns. The water in the bay below shone turquoise, whilst further out to sea jet skis carved brilliant white crescents against the pthalo blue. Throaty engines echoed in the silence, but the roar of the machines couldn’t break her peace. Her heart sang.

Following sign posts, Claire took a detour to find gemstone bay. She came through the trees to discover a pebble-strewn beach lurking beneath a rocky bluff. The stones shimmered red and green in the water like the precious gems the bay was named for. Snapping some pictures, Claire returned up the path, groaning at the pain in her calf muscles.

Right. No more unnecessary detours.

Eventually they reached sea level. All along the beach, tourists stood with cameras ready, trying to capture the perfect image. The cathedral itself was a hole in the rock, like Durdle Door – on Claire’s list of things to visit in Dorset, before she’d decided to run away to the other side of the world.

Why do I keep comparing things to Dorset? As if anything that county has to offer can come close to the Coromandel scenery I’ve witnessed today.

Cathedral Cove, Coromandel

Cathedral Cove, Coromandel

Claire waited by the natural stone archway, trying to take a photograph with no people in sight. It took too long and eventually she settled for figures in the distance. Sometimes trying to take shots she could use for the blog tried her patience.

Ahead she heard the sound of laughing and splashing and she strolled through the tunnel to investigate. On the next beach, a group from her bus were paddling in the sea. One person had stripped off and was swimming out to a distant rock.

Claire kicked off her shoes and dipped an experimental toe in the water. It was freezing. She joined the others to discover who the crazy swimmer was. As he waved from the rock and dived back into the water, she watched his progress with a sinking certainty.

Neal. Of course, I might have known.

Not wanting him to catch her watching, Claire hurried back through the cathedral and made her way to the bus. Halfway up the walk, she paused to catch her breath. A strange impulse caught hold of her, like a shift in the weather. She took out her phone and tapped a text message, hitting send before she could change her mind.

Conor, it’s Claire. Just wanted to say hi and thanks for the text. I’ve just been to see a place that reminded me of Dorset. You’d love it. There will be pictures on the blog tomorrow. Sorry if this wakes you. Claire.

Without stopping to analyse her actions, Claire stuffed the phone back in her bag and continued her walk to the bus.

***

Tempus Fugit: 2013 365 Challenge #209

Happy Holly Dog

Happy Holly Dog

I sometimes think an upside of writing novels might be having something to show for the passing of the years. I know time speeds by, quicker and quicker now I have children. But it seems the only way of passing it, and marking it, is by anniversaries of death and marriage (for me both happened in the same year.)

Seven years ago my father passed away and we scattered his ashes at Old Harry Rocks in Dorset (I think Claire might have to pay a visit there today). His dog, Holly, was adopted by close friends of my Dad with whom I didn’t manage to stay in touch.

I received an email this morning to say that Holly is now walking with Dad in the afterlife (particularly poignant for me, after reading two of Pat Elliott‘s short stories from her forthcoming collection Sanctuary’s Gate). Holly’s ashes will also be scattered at Old Harry Rocks, a place of special significance to my Dad.

Old Harry Rocks

Old Harry Rocks

Seven years – 49 for Holly. It feels like yesterday. Truly. I don’t need to look at the pictures or read my life writings from college to remember standing up at his funeral, reading the eulogy that came to me one sleep-deprived night, or to picture us all climbing up the hill in Dorset with most of Dad in a plastic canister (we kept a ‘leg’ of ashes back for my grandma, too old to travel, to scatter alongside her husband at the crematorium. Divided in death, as in life, between his love for Dorset and his need to be near his Mum).

I’m pleased Holly lived so long and died peacefully. I can’t mourn her, because she ceased to be our dog the day Dad died. I know she was loved and happy and provided a wonderful reminder to his friends. For them today must be a sad day. Today they must feel like they lost Dad all over again.

Tempus Fugit: Time flies. From now on I hope to remember it in books, rather than deaths.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire strode up the wide grassy incline, dividing her attention between the sea to her left and the raptors overhead. The birds of prey swooped and circled on an updraft, forming a perfect dance of air-born joy.

Two horse riders ambled down the hill towards her. She nodded in greeting and wondered what it might be like seeing the world from that height; peering over hedges and into people’s houses. Maybe horse riding could be my new passion? People who ride become consumed by it. It’s a healthy obsession at least, if a bit pricey.

Out in the bay, a large speedboat carved arcs of white against the cerulean blue. The growl of an engine drifted up to her. Wondering if it was a Sunseeker being put through its paces, Claire stopped to watch. Now that is an expensive pastime. Well above my touch. I’d have to marry a footballer. I could hang out at Sandbanks and see if I take someone’s eye.

She laughed, startling a pigeon pecking at the grass. Who am I kidding? I’m not young, blonde, thin or dumb enough to be a WAG. Actually they’re not dumb. If I thought I could bag Beckham I’d definitely give it a go.

The wind picked up as she came, blinking, out of a copse of trees and crested the ridge. The hedgerow dropped away and all around was sea and crumbling limestone.

Nearby, a young woman sat on a checked picnic blanket, entertaining a baby, while a small boy ran about in the grass. He kept creeping close to the cliff edge, each time eliciting a squeal of alarm from his mother.

Goodness, why would you bring young children up here? Idiocy. Kids gravitate to danger like flies to jam.

Then Claire saw the faraway look in the mother’s eyes as she kept glancing from her son to a group of people huddled near a ledge. As Claire watched, the group threw handfuls of dust off the cliff, nearly toppling from the rocks as the wind blew the ash back at them.

Claire felt a lump rise in her throat.  The tight-knit group of people, some holding hands, other’s hugging one another tightly, spoke of family and love and loss in such volume it seemed to echo around the cliff-top.

How awful, to forever associate this beautiful place with death. Around her the wide sky drew her spirit and the endless sea beckoned her on. Although it wouldn’t be such a bad place to spend eternity.

Rounding the corner, Claire saw the Pinnacles, marching out to sea, and glimpses of Swanage in the distance. It was tempting to carry on walking into town, but that posed the dilemma of getting back to her car. It was a gorgeous day, and she had nowhere else to be. No one expecting her, or harbouring expectations of her. With a shrug, Claire followed the path to town.

*

The phone rang just as Claire was beginning to regret her impulsive decision. Footsore and hungry, and without so much as a boiled sweet in her bag, Claire knew she had broken all the hard-learned rules of walking. It didn’t improve her mood.

“Hello?”

“Goodness, you’re in a temper. Or do you always answer the phone like that?”

“Who is this?” She knew, but needed time to calm down.

“Conor. Where are you?”

“I’m out on the ballard, walking back into Swanage. It’s further than I anticipated.”

“Ah, did you go up to Old Harry and get tempted? Do you need a lift back to Studland to get your car?”

How did he know? Claire sank to the grass to rest her bruised feet and seethed in silence.

“I’m right, aren’t I? It’s not rocket science. It’s a cracking day. The walk from The Bankes Arms is the easiest way up on the cliffs along there, and many a time I’ve been lured to walk the route back to town.”

“Is that why you’re calling? To check up on me?”

“No, I’m calling to offer you a job. If you still want it?” There was doubt in his voice; all brash bravado gone.

Claire’s stomach plummeted as if it had dived off the cliff like the paragliders she’d seen earlier. Damn. It wasn’t a shock. But it did mean she would need to make a decision.

“Can I have some time to think about it? I’m going home to my folks’ for the weekend. I’ll ring you Monday.”

Before Conor had time to interject, Claire hung up the phone. The day fell dark, and she would have paid a large chunk of her counter-offer salary to be whisked back to the hostel and furnished with a hot mug of tea.

***