Sicilian spring

My land of Sicily was dry, parched by the insistence of a southern sun. I can still remember the gold of the stubble and the silvery-green of the olive trees and the clean black of the freshly plowed soil.

When, at the beginning of the summer, we would return from the long city-wintering, the peasants along the narrow furrowed road to my father's farm would greet us as we drove by. They would interrupt the measured pace of their methodical labor, turn to us their sun-darkened faces, and welcome us with a gesture and a smile. They addressed us with an unspoken question but with no shyness and no regrets. Had we stopped, they would have told us about their life in a somewhat apologetic manner as if to imply they could guess of better lives and different worlds, the ones of which we had just been a part.

It was hard to tell time on those faces. Accustomed to the subtle ravages of man-created time, we were at a loss as to the tyranny worked by the elements on those creased, dark, dry skins lightened by childish eyes.

On that land, life followed the slow relentless rhythm of nature. The feast of almond blossoms, the gentle breezes, and the sudden showers of spring would wake the torpid bodies and the sleepy spirits of those peasants, draw them out of their winter inactivity and into the fields ready for the sowing. Then, spring would ease slowly into summer.

The freshly harvested hay would diffuse its perfume through the air; the golden thick ears of wheat would be cut. After the threshing, the precious grains would be stored or sent to the mill, and except for mounds of husks, the threshing area would be left to children and lovers. At nightfall, the older people would linger outside their dwellings and tell tales, fresher and younger than those inspired by the leaping flames around which they gathered during the wet, dark nights of winter.

Soon, different smells would saturate the crispness of an early fall into which summer had faded: heaps of grapes in the panniers and, later, the new olive oil flowing like a golden river in the narrow trough that channeled it into the drums. Its pungent aroma would raise the already sinking spirits.

Finally, the long winter would embrace the land and lull it into sleep. The children would spend hours with their faces flattened against the windows, watching the rain drench the thirsty ground, listening to its monotonous ticking on the roof tiles. As for their elders, nature's inevitable lethargy forced them to nurture their own dormant consciences. It was a season for remembrances and meditation. Till the beginning of a new cycle, in the spring.

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