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Enclosure

Reap and gossip. That’s the rule. On harvest days, anyone who’s got a pair of legs and arms can expect to earn supper with unceasing labour. Our numbers have been too reduced of late to allow a single useful soul to stay away. The children go ahead of us, looking for the grey of any thistle heads that have outstripped our barley, then duck below the level ears of grain to weed out nettles, teasels, docks. ‘Dealing with the grievances,’ we say. Then the broadest shoulders swing their sickles and their scythes at the brimming cliffs of stalk; hares, partridges and sparrows flee before the blades; our wives and daughters bundle up and bind the sheaves, though not too carefully – they work on the principle of ten for the commons and one for the gleaning; our creaking fathers make the lines of stooks; the sun begins to dry what we have harvested. Our work is consecrated by the sun. Compared to winter days, or digging days, it’s satisfying work, made all the more so by the company we keep, for on such days all the faces we know and love (as well as those I know but do not like entirely) are gathered in one space and bounded by common ditches and collective hopes. If, perhaps, we hear a barking deer nagging to be trapped and stewed or a woodcock begging to make his hearse in a pie, we lift our heads as one and look towards the woods. We straighten up as one and stare at the sun, reprovingly, if it’s been darkened by a cloud; our scythes and hand tools clack and chat in unison. And anything we say is heard by everyone.

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