An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Friday, January 29, 2010

Picking Olives 2010 day 1

It was bright this morning. There had been a heavy dew overnight and the weather forecast was less than promising. We loitered through the chores and Gill did the laundry that I then hung out in hope. It was warmer now and though the sky held cloud the sun was peeking from behind clouds. We looked at each other and nodded. "Let's go and see how things in the olive grove look". Well, they looked pretty damned fine. The dew had dried from the trees and they no longer glistened. The oxalis was wet and the ground all but sodden. "We looked at each other and nodded. "He who dares wins!." We trudged back up the steep slope for the first time today.

Unpacking the nets and sacks from the supposedly rodent safe storage we found we had lost 3 sacks to mice. So much for rodent proof. The mice clearly prefer hessian to nylon. The nets were untouched.  We opened up the drying room since all the other farm buildings currently have very wet floors.  We laid out the sacks, gathered up the olive rakes, grabbed our buckets and changed into work clothes. Wellies on, we took our second trip of the day down the slippery slope. There would be many more.

By the time we got down to the first (or is it the last?)  row a crew of olive pickers had assembled in a field nearby and had started up their whizzers. We could hear them but not see them. That's how it would stay for the day. We don't use whizzers. We use olive rakes. They are gentler on the trees and on the ears. We can talk as we pick. Spreading the olive nets beneath the oil tree (oil trees as opposed to the eating trees) furthest from the house we reacquainted ourselves with how big those nets are.  Big green buggers. Two of them. The sun was a little further up now and had begun to warm our bones. We set to. The olives were all purpled and came off the tree so easily that it was hard at first to appreciate just how many drupes there were for the taking. Finish the first tree and move the nets on to the next tree in the row, After four trees we can no longer move the nets and so we stop to clean leaf and twig. There is a huge pile of olives on each of the nets.  The sun is really warm now. It is another hour and a half higher in the sky. We crouch on our haunches and clean the gatherings discarding twig and detritus in a pile beneath a finished tree behind us. 

We are no longer young and neither of us is strong enough of back to hoist a full sack of olives on our shoulder and climb the slope to the drying room. As an aside, the old people here, people of our generation, are much tougher and harder working than their kids who almost without exception hate doing olives. The old ones just knuckle down to hard physical work and set their tempo to suit their bodies. We try to emulate the old ones. So, since we cannot lug full bags up and down all day, or once even, we load up buckets with clean olives and tramp up to the drying room where we empty them into sacks that we never fill more than half way (we have to take the sacks up to the pickup when we have enough). And so we trade more walking up and down hill against lugging huge sacks a few times. This will take its toll on our legs and hips but will save our backs.

The newly emptied nets are dragged under the next tree and the harvest resumes. These trees in this bottom, or top, row are heavy with drupes. The sacks are starting to fill in the drying room and I regret the loss of 3 sacks to the mice. At this rate we may have to get some more sacks. And so it goes until the first row is done and then we turn and start back on the second row but in the reverse direction. The sun is high and about to begin its descent. It is hot now and we are sweating as we work. We wear hats, gloves, and protective eyewear when beating and the olives drop into shirts and shirt pockets, and bras and trouser turn ups. Gill stops now and then to empty olives from her wellington boots. Somehow my wellington shoes do not suffer the same problem.

Half way across row 2 and about when we hear the other crew packing up in laughter, the sun droops lazily behind the house and the temperature begins to drop. We finish the tree in progress and rubbing our sore backs we clean the last of today's harvest and trudge for the nth time up and down that hill to the drying room and when we are done with that we have 9 half full sacks safely in. Trudging back down the hill it is good to think that this will be the last time today. Surely that slope has steepened as we worked? Fold those big green buggering nets, but clean them first. Gather up the rakes and gloves and water bottle and, each of us with a  net clamped under an arm, we take that final trudge. We are done for the day once everything is stored away in the drying room. Tired but satisfied.

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