We are at the Autumn Equinox where day is as long as the night. The year turns as the growing season has peaked, and the land slows down and rests. The farmers have brought in the last of their crops, and the wildlife makes its provision during autumn for the forthcoming winter.  All part of the unending cycle where the earth is a self-regulating mechanism- where every creature and plant have its own role to play in nurturing the earth whilst also providing sustenance for the next level in the food chain.  

Humans have a role in this chain. The traditional way of cutting the corn with a scythe left enough of the corn stalks as a home for the grasshoppers, crickets and caterpillars for the survival of the diversity of wildlife. Many modern harvesters cut the corn to the ground, leaving no room for the creatures that live there, unless the farmer make some provision for this. In the old ceremony of “Crying the neck,” the last sheaf of corn is cut with a scythe, bound tight, then held up to those present to the cry “I ‘ave ’un, I ‘ave ‘un, I ‘ave ‘un.” To which the response is “What ‘ave ‘ee? What ‘ave ‘ee? What ‘ave ‘ee?” The sheaf is held high to “The Neck! The Neck! The Neck!” “Hurrah!” responds the crowd. A jug of nut brown ale is passed around for all to sip and then the rest is returned to the ground. The land and the crop have been honoured.

We have to take account of the little things to make things run smoothly. John and Mary bought an old farm that had been left to rack and ruin! “Don’t worry,” said John, “we will soon get this farm going.”

He cleared the land and scattered corn seed singing the old rhyme “one to the mouse, one to the crow, one to lay rot, one to grow.” Not every seed would take but when the crops grew the next year he was disappointed. And the next. Mary watched him become sadder. She went to the wise woman and asked for her advice. The old woman asked if the land had been cleared, watered, seed from a good source. Mary said yes to everything. Finally, the old women asked “and the little people?”  Mary didn’t know about them. “Thats your answer!” smiled the old woman.

That night Mary left out bread, milk, and cheese for the little people. John laughed, and said it was the mice that ate the food. But the next time he sowed the seed, if he had looked behind him, he would have seen a little man singing “none to the mouse, none to the crow, none to rot, all to grow.”

When it came to harvest John was astonished. There too much for him to thresh before market day and he worried about losing its value. But in the night, they were awoken by a noise in the barn. They crept down and peered through a gap in the panel walls.  There was a little man in rags threshing so quick that all of it was done in a trice. “The little people” breathed Mary. Her nightly offerings had worked.

She wanted to thank the little man and made him a jacket and trousers.  She left them out with the bread and cheese, then snuck down in the middle of the night. The little man feasted then opened the parcel she had left. He put them on, danced a little jig then cried “I am a free man” and disappeared.

After that only the mice nibbled the bread and cheese. The little man was gone but John got a good price for the corn at market that set him up for several years as he worked on the farm. Its looking after the little things.

Image credit: Bob Griggs

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