Saturday, 19 November 2011

September & October's Farmer's Calendars

As we are half-way into November, I won't bother with the sky watching section, as that sky has come and gone. When I catch up to November, then we will worry about sky watching.

Farmer's Calendar - September

The belted kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon) is a bird of manic high spirits. It appears to enjoy its life hugely. In fishing, it leaves its waterside branch or other perch and strikes out in a rapid, swooping flight like a woodpecker's, uttering a loud, cackling chatter. Spotting a minnow in the water below, it hates the brakes and hoovers over the surface, helicopter-like, then drops headfirst into the water in a kind of corkscrew dive, splashing mightily, to emerge with its meal held fast in its bill. The bird then repairs to another perch where it dines, not without further bursts of self-satisfied laughter.

Common near rivers and ponds across the country, the kingfisher nests in tunnels it makes in vertical faces of shoreline banks. It seems to stake out certain stretches of water to patrol, using the same perches regularly to watch for small fish, tadpoles, and the like. Maybe its characteristic rattling cry is used in part to proclaim its territory.

Or, perhaps the kingfisher has its big personality to compensate for other disadvantages. It is, frankly, a rather peculiar-looking bird. Not much larger than a robin, it has an outsized head carried on a stubby body. This busy, talkative bird looks like nothing so much as a figure in an old-fashioned political cartoon.

Farmer's Calendar - October

Harvest figures, scarecrow-like effigies, appear on porches and in dooryards. They sprawl like last night's revelers who didn't quite make it home. They're a louche and disreputable lot, intended mainly to display their creators' wit. Harvest figures are improvised and more or less crude. A pumpkin head, a stuffed suit of long underwear, a cast-off Red Sox jacket will do very well. We're not talking about high art here.

Or are we? In his work The Golden Bough, British scholar J. G. Frazer surveyed the world's art, literature, myth and folkways to discover themes that replicate the cycle of the year from planting to ripening to harvest. For Frazer, the annual decline and renewal of the land's vegetation was the symbolic foundation of much of human behavior, crucially in literature, art, and religion.

In the world of The Golden Bough, the construction of the harvest figure was more than a reliable seasonal joke. It was a mystery, a solemn ritual intended to be enacted with devotion, faith and awe. the harvest figure itself was a sacrificial symbol whose demise would magically ensure the rebirth of nature by which, precariously, all men lived. The drunken yokels which populate our lawns this month may not look like much, but they come of a very old family.

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