Thursday, September 22, 2011

Stooks (or possibly sheaves) in China

Threshing the grain (at the left of the photo) using foot power
Little groupings of stooks (or possibly shaeves)
ready to be piled into larger mounds (possibly stooks).
I like stooks!

I like the word stooks, the way it rolls around in the mouth, the combination on letters almost mirroring the thing itself (possibly):

The taller t and k reflect the individual dried stalks propped upright, the oo is like the waist of the stook, belted neatly with fibre and the s's at each end are the fibre itself which has bound the stook to stand upright, independently and pertly in fields ready to be stacked into larger structures (I bet they have a cool name too - but if the big thing is the stook as Wikipedia seems to imply - I should have checked earlier - with the little ones being sheaves, then my whole story goes out the window! - except sheaf is a great word too - it just doesn't mirror as beautifully.)
I love the otherworldly look of stooks (and/or sheaves) populating higgledy-piggledy fields. Fields tucked in and shaped to fit into the natural contours of the land, handkerchief sized fields, human friendly and working with the landscape in a way we seem to have long forgotten. No doubt the work is backbreaking, hard, hot and sweaty, I’m not romanticising it, but it’s different to what I know; it looks right and fitting in this landscape – timeless, sustainable, workable.

Here, in Australia, massive tracts of land are pummelled by gigantic machinery, the driver perched way above in air-conditioned cab, barely able to see creatures, dragonflies or bees going about the important business of living, but vital nonetheless to the balance of life, fertilising flowers, ensuring crops thrive.
Photo: I. Travers
Near Guilin, our driver, Chen, and guide Li, were at first bemused by my excitement to see the stooks (or possibly sheaves) mentioned in childhood stories and depicted in old paintings. They later expressed pleasure in learning a new English word, obscure, rarely used, but accurate. Both were eager to go home and delve into dictionaries to learn more about the word’s derivation, history and usage. The following day they shared that the word appeared to originate in Germany, was then adopted in Scotland.

What a joy to teach and be taught about English words in a far off land; to share pleasure in words and play with sounds, to laugh together and wonder how did these words come about?

What words give you delight?


Bob Scotney said...

I remember the days before the combine when corn was harvested using a machine called a binder. This cut the corn and tied up in bundles as it went along, Each bundle tied with binder string round its middle was a sheaf. Gangs of men and boys (me at one time)followed the binder, collected a number of sheaves and stood them up, propping them against one another to keep the heads of corn off the ground. The collection of sheaves formed was called a stook.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. thankfully Bob has the knowledge!! So useful to read that - thanks Bob.

I loved your pictures of the agricultural land in China - thanks for sharing with us .. and your story. Large farming has destroyed so much habitat .. grubbing out the ancient hedges that harbour so many species .. lost - because the space between their next haven is too vast a field.

We're trying to introduce green corridors, and 'islands' into our fields .. so there's connectivity for the birds and animals as they move around giving them some lifelines of habitat.

Isn't that wonderful that your guides had gone off and learnt those words - I bet they're more interested now to keep learning.

Etymology is just wonderful and I love all the learning that's so easily available now .. and stooks is a wonderful word ...

Our parents' local pub when we were small kids was The Wheatsheaf!

Cheers - Hilary

sue said...

Bob, thankyou for clarifying that. I was really hoping someone would - thanks for visiting.

Hilary, it's great to have visitors who are generous in sharing their knowledge!

I was reading in a Bryson book about the problem with hedgerows being destroyed. I liked his idea of them getting some sort of Heritage status.

One thing they've done here for possums to navigate highways is to string up netting walkways high above the traffic. They've also made tunnels for non climbing creatures to cross busy roads. The green corridors are always threatened by developers who often get their way at the expense of the environment.

I like the name "Wheatsheaf" it's much more interesting than my local pubs "The Grand" & "The Royal"

Have a good weekend. Sue