Orchard Meadow

By Clare Leighton, 1935

The moment for mowing has come. We go into the shed and look at our scythe. From the fields around comes the drone of the reaper, sending us almost to sleep with the bee-like hum, now nearer, now further, of its graduated waves of sound. Even the voice of the mower as he calls to his horses has a humming quality. So deeply are we under the spell of this drone that we have hardly the energy to think of our own mowing. The scythe seems heavy as we lift it from its hooks on the shed wall. If that soothing hum would only stop, we could brace ourselves to start. We linger and pause, and look about us, eager for any excuse to delay work. Perhaps the daffodil leaves are not as dead as we had imagined last evening in the half light? But when we go to the orchard to look, we see that there is no excuse for us, they lie crinkled and brown among the roots of the grasses.

The grasses undulate in the breeze, with the motion of a slight swell at sea. As we walk round the orchard, now facing, now backing the sun, they change colour; they are pale silver fawn with the sun full on them, and darker and redder against the sun’s light. And as the men and women in a vast crowd have their unremarked, individual beauty and character, moulded each in his own fashion, differing each from the other in shape and colouring, so are the grasses in the orchard composed of multitudinous varying forms, some frail and fine, some erect and sturdy, each with its own pattern of life.I look closer. Where the rapid glance perceived a mere shimmering stretch of fawn, I now see the cock’s foot grass, with violet-tinted flecks of pollen still sticking to its rough spikes; rye grass and vernal grass are light against brown plantain; the flowered green timothy grass smooth and erect, austere of form among the shaking, quivering totter grasses. Shorter, in this vast crowd, clump the ‘backbone’ grasses, familiar to us from our childhood’s game of ‘Tinker, Tailor’. Pale meadow soft grass and meadow poa add to the waving buff, a background to some still blossoming pink vetch. Aristocrat amidst this multitude stands the lovely yellow melilot, like a beauty in the market place. Burnt spire tells of seeding dock that we have overlooked on our weedings. Bladder of white campion looks strangely smooth against fringed grasses. At the far end of the grassland grows a white clot of moon-daisies. We did not dig the orchard land when we made our garden, merely cultivated the ground that surrounds each fruit-tree; so to-day it blossoms with stray lucerne and white clover, heritage from the days when it was pasture.

Beneath these towering, tapering grasses, in the thick tangle of undergrowth, creep little yellow hop trefoil, and scarlet pimpernel. The gilt downy seeds of the goat’s beard lie low in the grass, seeking the earth. Below this carpet of flowering weeds are the dark homes of insects. Moss covers the nest of the wild bee, which hums in the short stemmed clover. Butterflies are a brown and blue mist among the grasses. Ripened vetch pods burst in the heat with sudden crackles.

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