Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 18

Psalm 144

Crop Circles?

I am always intrigued as to how the human race developed over time, after all the stone age people had no books to refer to or any previous experience to help them learn or discover, so how did they live and develop?

For example, who first discovered how to harness fire and how did they do it? Was a matter of many burnt fingers until they got it right? Don’t forget they had no matches, or firelighters and they would not know how to rub two sticks together because there was no boy scouts in those days.  But we know from archaeological excavations that very early humans discovered how to control fire and use it to their advantage.

In addition to fire I wonder how early humans discovered how to grow, prepare and eat grain and cereals such as corn, wheat. barley etc. Once again from archaeological discoveries we have found evidence from early Stone Age settlements, of cooked food containing cereals which suggests that techniques of gathering grain and cooking it had been developed, so one of the earliest professions was the ‘hunter/gatherer/farmer’,

Evidence suggests that the early farmer had discovered techniques such as creating a furrow to sow the grain and early ploughing tools such as shaped branches and animal bones had been used for this purpose, sowing would have obviously been done by hand.

The use of animals as a power source is also a mystery, who was the first to even think to domesticate an Ox or even a horse to work for the farmer? But whoever did discovered a major breakthrough in early farming methods. I suppose it was the earliest environmentally friendly mechanisation, no pollution and lots of natural fertilisation of the soil in one stroke.

The industrial revolution had a significant impact on most industries in the late Edwardian and Victorian era, and adventures into steam power certainly changed the face of farming. Powerful steam engines were developed that enabled fields to be ploughed in half the time as with animals. Two steam engines working in unison across a large field would pull a large heavy plough between each other giving a straight uniform furrow. Steam was not environmentally friendly and carried with it undesirable side effects such as fire in dry summer conditions and immobility in wet conditions , and eventually it gave way to much more efficient, more controllable and affordable, Petrol, Paraffin and Diesel engines. By the early 20th century companies such as Ford, International Harvester, and Fergusson were developing compact, powerful and manoeuvrable tractors that had multi use facilities.

Preparing the ground for crops is not straight forward and follows a number of essential stages. After harvesting the ground is ploughed, and this in itself is a science. Each furrow must be the correct depth, not penetrating through the topsoil into the poorer sub strata underneath, each furrow must be straight and uniform, and each furrow must turn the stubble of the previous crop underneath to encourage enrichment of the soil. The richness of the soil is assessed and possible additives such as lime, fertilizers or manure (nitrates) added. Heavy chains or other specialist implements will them break down the tops of the furrows to aerate and the soil and gave a suitable tilth to allow the seed to be sown.  Early tractors would complete each stage as separate operation whereas modern tractors can now plough the perfect furrow, chemically test the soil, apply the correct amount of fertilizer, plant the seed and roll the soil in one operation and with the help of satellite navigation the driver can sit and read a newspaper while it all happens.

Similarly at harvest time the old methods of scything the crop by hand now give way to complex combine harvesters that can automatically cut the stalk, separate the grain, bale the stalks and jettison the grain into a waiting tractor and trailer. Gone are the days of farming machinery being uncomplicated, robust, machines of a simple design. Now we have complex machines that are scientific, computerised and very expensive.

I own two vintage tractors both from a family of compact machines designed to be efficient and manoeuvrable to best suit smaller farms and fields where bigger tractors were cumbersome and unwieldy. My tractors are from the late 1950s but there are many machines from the 1930s and older that still appear at tractor and steam rallies. Their basic but functional design and construction means that they still function today just as well as they did when they were new, (well sometimes and almost as good).

The well- known Hymn, ‘We plough the fields and scatter’, is of German origin, written by a poet called Matthias Claudius. It was first published in 1782 and was based on Psalm 144 originally having 17 verses. Jane Montgomery Campbell translated the poem into English language in 1861 and added music to teach it to children in a London school where her father was the Rector. The harvest hymn became the most popular song from worship books.

The point of the hymn is to give thanks to God for the harvest but also acknowledge that it is God that gives life to the grain, also feeds and waters the grain, swells the grain through the winter snow and develops it to maturity through the summer sun and produces the harvested grain.

I attempted ploughing with my tractors on several occasions and I can assure you it is not as easy it looks. Just keeping a straight furrow is difficult, it appears fine when you are looking forwards but it is when you turn round and look behind that you see the true picture. On one occasion I was so bad that if I had kept on going I would have created a crop circle.

Now there must be a sermon in there somewhere, ploughing our own furrow but only seeing he true picture of our mistakes when looking back at the times we took our eye off Jesus Christ.  

Derek T.