I spent all yesterday afternoon reenacting a scene from the Bible. It wasn’t the usual Sunday school choice, like Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, or Abraham not sacrificing Isaac, or Jacob tricking his father into giving him the blessing meant for his older, hairier brother. (I understand there are also compelling scenes in the New Testament, but we didn’t study that where I went to Sunday school). I was reenacting Leviticus 19:9-10.
Many of you, I’m sure, have Leviticus 19:9-10 at your fingertips. For those of you who don’t, here’s the King James version:
And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger. Signed, God.
Okay, not that last part. It really says, “I am the Lord your God,” but the upshot is the same.
In my reenactment, I was the “poor and stranger.” A couple we know who had just bought a cranberry bog had the much more prestigious role of the farmer. I was the gleaner; they were the gleanee. They closed on the bog yesterday, at a meeting that started at 1:00. They took possession at 2:00.
The bog had already been harvested, but there were still many berries along the edges. By 2:10, I was picking them.
This wasn’t just gleaning. This was extreme gleaning. There was a frost forecast for that night, and cranberries do not survive a hard frost. While some might live to be gleaned another day, most of what we didn’t get off the bushes yesterday would probably be lost. I picked almost until dark.
You’ve probably seen the Jean-Francois Millet painting, “The Gleaners.” Once you’ve actually, gleaned, though, you look at the picture with new eyes. Now, all I see is back pain.
See the two women on the left? You can hunch over like that for about seven seconds before your back starts to hurt. That woman on the right? She’s in her eighth second. What she was actually saying has been lost in the mists of time, but I’m betting it was along the lines of, “Whose idea was this?”
Cranberry gleaning is easier than other kinds of gleaning because the bogs are surrounded by ditches. When you pick the berries along the edges, you can brace your back against the wall of the ditch. This helps, but less than you’d think. It also has one serious drawback. As you lean against it, some of the sandy bank inevitably dislodges and goes down your pants. If there were a Top Ten list of places you don’t want angry insects to be, “in your underwear” would be in serious contention.
The payoff, though, was five pounds of gleaned cranberries, and the search for the World’s Best Cranberry Recipe begins. Nominations, anyone?