Selection #7
From The Harvest
by Liberty Hyde Bailey

Dateline: 9 February 2014

(photo link)

Uncle Daniel quit when the sun did. It was “blasphemous-like” to work in the field after the sun had finished. The sun was Uncle Daniel’s time-piece. He was up with the sun, for that was the beginning of a Lord’s day and one should not waste the Lord’s time in bed. He worked till the sun went down, and as a consequence he frequently took a half or whole day off. Sun-to-sun made a natural day, for did not the Good Book speak of the evening and the morning of the sixth day when man was put at work? Sometimes when haying or harvest was on, the bay-and-gray team would still be in the field at sundown, but Uncle Daniel would always stop and wait for the sun to sink out of sight, as a fitting observance of the properties.

To “lay abed” long after the sun is up and to spend half of the night “cuttin’ up” by lamplight was perilously near blasphemy to Uncle Daniel. He was sure the sun was made for a purpose and it would not be shining in the early morning unless it ought to shine; the chickens and cows knew this. He was suspicious of those persons who had things to do that could not be done in day time; they would bear watching. And the evening was made for rest and the night for sleep.

To Uncle Daniel the evening was a reality, not merely a time to change clothes or to go to a show. It was a time for reverential pause and for thinking over the good and evil, the work and the accomplishment, of the day. In this attitude there was real relaxation, and a good preparation for honest sleep. He would enjoy the sunrise.

Hush is on the fields when the sun sinks beyond the West. Soon the birds begin to drop one by one into trees and other shelter; they are in their accustomed places. In spring the robin curls his vesper deep into the gloaming. The dog is at home. A subdued sound is in the barnyard. The cows are waiting to be milked. Horses, cattle and wild things afield will soon be lying down for the night. It is a natural halt in the activities of the day. The courses of events are in halves; evening and twilight are an ending and a beginning, although one event so softly slips into the other that we are not excited by such a stupendous change.

I like to think of the farmer as having his field work so well in hand that he can enjoy the hallowed pause of evening, not too tired for appreciation, not disinclined to yield to its impressions. Isaac, the cattleman, “went out to meditate in the field at the eventide.” It is the time often to walk alone over the fields, particularly in spring and summer, in temperate regions, when the twilight is long. It is a time to see pastures and meadows leisurely, relieved from strain of labor; to go to the back fields and note what is happening there; to sit on stone or log and let the farm come to one; to listen by the brook; to hold converse with the herds, when they are quiet; to enter the woodlot in the gloaming; to break through weeds and brush; to stop at nest and burrow; to see new shapes arise; to walk back to the house in the late cool twilight.

At twilight are the senses rested and alert, the passions subdued, and the mind ready for suggestions. It is then that the exigencies of the day may be allowed to drop away, and the native nobler impulses find expression. It is a time for consecration, to the countryman particularly. It should be so to all men, for as Halleck writes, “There is an evening twilight of the heart.” In Eden “they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day,” which to us visualizes the evening.

Few of us know the evening any more. All we know is flare of lights, a bit of reading under the lamp, an automobile ride, a show, some triviality to kill the time painlessly. Few of us are so placed that we can know it in the old and natural way. Few of us have a horizon line, or really see the stars come out or note the constellations, or feel the moonrise, or know the forewinds of the night. We are covered by roofs and limited by conveniences and conventionalities. The welkin of the approaching night is only a subject for exclamation now and then; it is not a canopy to live under.

It is easy to spoil the twilight.

—Liberty Hyde Bailey
    The Harvest of The Year To The Tiller of The Soil (1927)


L.H. Bailey's prose, peppered with semicolons and unusual phrases, is not as easy to read as, say, the more contemporary agrarian writings of Wendell Berry. But he presents us with some rare and interesting word pictures. 

For example, in the selection above Bailey writes that the "robin curls his vesper deep into the gloaming." That selection of words sent me once again to the Webster's 1828 dictionary.

There I found that "curls" can mean, "to raise in waves or undulations; to ripple." 

Vesper is defined as, "the evening song or evening service of the Romish church."

"Gloaming" is not in the 1828 Webster's. But gloam is there. It means,  "to be sullen." One definition of sullen is "dark."  I thought perhaps Bailey was creating a word with gloaming, meaning something like, "the developing darkness."  But the word is found in more modern dictionaries where it is defined simply as, "twilight; dusk."

With these definitions, I have a picture in my mind. And I am looking forward to the coming spring and summer when, in that special time of the day, after the sun has set, in the fading daylight, I can hear for myself the familiar sound of a robin curling his vesper into the gloaming.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The last light of day is one of two most special times of day for me-the other being the first light of day. I am fortunate enough to have a marvelous western horizon here on the farm, where the tree-line turns to a silhouette at dusk. After all the goats, pigs, chickens, dogs, and ducks have been fed, hayed, and had their water buckets freshened, I stroll back from the barn and toward the house. It is heavenly, and oh-so-peaceful...