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Gram-Letter7-art - 7/19/15


"Winter Work and Lifetime Loves" by Lady Shara of Starwood, OVO, CMC, AoA. A series of articles on various crafts and medieval life written in first-person style.  This is number 7 of 11 articles in this series.


NOTE: See also the files: pilgrimages-msg, p-agriculture-bib, nettles-msg, livestock-msg, p-animals-bib, p-pigs-msg, duck-goose-msg, lamb-mutton-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set

of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


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Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.


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                              Thank you,

                                   Mark S. Harris

                                   AKA:  Stefan li Rous

                                        stefan at florilegium.org



This article was originally published in the "Tal-Mere Tidings", the newsletter of the Shire of Tal-Mere, Kingdom of Meridies.


Winter Work and Lifetime Loves

by Shara of Starwood, OVO, CMC, AoA


Dearest Rebecca,


       Can you believe that yet another year of dark days and long nights is already on it's way out of this world and already we prepare for the new year's rewakening, as just now we have said farewell to the holidays....


       You are so young, and as I well remember, a year seems an eternity yet to you.....you will not find it to continue so when you attain my own ancient age....better known as 'the age of wisdom'...(or the 'age of senility' .... depending on whom one asks).  For every year it seems that the more I am determined to know, the more I forget.  Yet the shorter the time I have to dwell on such unimportant things....


      I wish it were possible to sleep the winters away, like some great bear, all fattened in his den and unaware of the passing of the harsh winter without; his sleep lost in endless dreams of spring meadows and summer berries, with only his warm awakening to a new green world each year and no laboring on his behalf to bring about the change.


     But here at Starwood, we have no such luxury - for as sure as there is regular frost about the morning air, still it is that the stalls and paddocks and such must be mucked-out and the dung of horse to be taken to the worked fields and furrows for the corn. That of cow to the grass and that of the sheep to the fallow fields to be followed later by the sheep themselves....This must be done while the land is still cold and firm as to keep the full and heavy cart well above ground that will be soft in the spring, and would bog down the cart wheels.....As it rumbles along pulled by steady oxen, 'Sir Wag' follows along behind, hauling out dung with his angled fork....it not mattering much where his foot falls in step, as it will land in the ripe mess regardless, not to mention that left behind by the oxen themselves.  So he seems not to worry, for it is but a task yet that needs doing, and it is his to do, but tis no wonder that he has no wife to complain of it... There is little thought made to the gathering of that left by the swines, as they wander about most freely for the most part, and leave where they will, simply to be avoided by my skirts and shoe when possible, besides they keep more to the forest for there are acorns and such to be had there.  The hen and pigeon coup and lofts must be scraped of droppings and collected for their use in the laundry where they are mixed with urine to bleach (*to make washing lye) spring fleeces and garments made already. But as there is use even for the privy soil, still there is none for the goose droppings.  Care must be taken to keep the sheep from areas where the goose has been as it is known that sheep sicken and die when turned into fields where the goose was before...The goose has his use...but only in fine eggs and it's gracing presence upon our sideboard.


     It seems that all that is left from anything else is fair to be added to the fields:  burnt bracken, the lees of the wine and soap, potash, spent charcoal, shreds and shavings from the harness maker and from shoes, wet seaweed and even the waters from the cheese press and buckings may be added to the fields, and more, for there is no waste here.


     This is the time to be planting the mustard seed, beans and Runcival peas, and the hempseed cast about the places heavy with nettle, for where the hemp grows, the nettle will thrive no more.  The vines of grape must be cut and new started from some of the vine, the rest will be chopped and added to that which goes back to the fields....I've heard that in Italy the vines are made into charcoal for the artist use, as it makes the very best of blacks, and in Germany, along the Rhine River, I have seen the hillside vinyards sheathed in slate, to hold the winter sun to the roots, where those who tend the vines and collect the grapes, do so from basket sleds lowered down the steep mountain sides.  If ever we can obtain slate enough to spare, I would like to try adding it at the base of some of our own vines, to see if it offers improvement here, though of Sun, we have little enough in any season it seems.  


     There are osiers being cut yet, and wood to refill the woodsheds for the remainder of the winter and the cleaning of the ditches to do and sheep to be moved to any land in need of help for a time.  Dear Mary's Tim has taken it upon himself to help the terriers and has set about the trapping of moles and Sarah has been more helpful than usual, but methinks this is more from boredom and/or an attempt to avoid her lessons than from any other reason. Even so, her hands in the dairy are much needed and so I care not what she is helping to do so long as she is not idle.  There are willows to be planted in wet places for the later weaving of baskets. And such as will be needed also in the way of waddle hurdles from last seasons's growth to be fashioned into moveable fences to confine the sheep in special areas, as needed for their dung to nourish barren soil. And did I mention that there is still much other work about the barns yet to do, as there is still the threshing out of the barley and wheat and mestlin saved from before to be done by the lads who can be spared to the task....ah, to be a great bear, chasing rabbits in his dreams at this time...


   Ah, I am exhausted just talking about all of this!  You would think that as many hands as we have to do the needed work here that your grandfather and I would be spared all else but the flapping of our tongues to see to it's doing by others, but such is our nature that to merely order it to be done while we are still able is a thing most alien to our thinking, for to do that is to admit a readiness to lay down and wait for our final journey, and while that too, will come in time, we are neither ready or willing to part with this life yet and miss all else that we may yet experience in it, or leave yet our many loved ones to be missed.


   We will work while we are still able, and give thanks to Our Dear Lord for continued good health and strength of body to do so.  I would stay here if for no other reason than to see fat babes in your arms and to have them old enough to remember me well, and God willing your grandfather will still be by my side till the last possible moment for here he has been these last 40 years since I was a bride of 15 years and him a young Irish lad of 17 whom my father called 'Black Irish' for his hair was as black as soot and his eyes of the deepest brown.  He came to us with little besides the shirt upon his back and two leather bags of the tools of the blacksmith trade (which were his inheritance from a father passed), fair crippling the old mare he led, seeking work. And as our own had been lost to the fever the winter before, my father welcomed him with much warmth and a hot meal for we had much in the need of doing and repairs to busy him.  Granted, he was young but his widowed father had raised him to the trade and so had taught him well. My only brother had shown no interest in the land or it's rewards, and had years since gone out to see the world and my father was glad to have the young smith in our household.  In time I would consider no other to be yoked to, for though he was most quiet and shy and barely spoke to me for 2 or 3 years, still in time he found me reading and was much fascinated by such that a mere girl knew such a thing and he, a 'man' knew not...he was most eager to learn and my father allowed that he should be taught.  He took quickly to the task, as I took quickly to him.  I had a cat, not sure with strangers, Sasha took none the less to sweet Hastar and she was ever around him, adding weight to his bellows or curled asleep near his forge, and despite her frequent attempts to 'help' him never once did I hear a harsh word spoken to her by him.  He treated her gently and with respect, and sometimes I'd find him holding her in his muscular arms, at some idle moment, his eyes closed in contentment, a smile on his lips and her softly kneading his shoulder with soft toes and purring.  And I knew I'd have no other than such a boy as could so strongly shape the iron and yet be so tamed by one of God's small creatures.


   And so it is that I intend to spend my last days in his arms as loved by his gentleness as was my own sweet Sasha.


   Your mother tells me that you have yet to find a boy to your liking (?). But that it is not for any lack of suitors.  I hope that this is merely due to the waiting for the right one to present himself before you, and not for any fear of loss by compromises which must be made..... I have your mother's assurance that you will not be forced to marry where there is no love to be shared, for such was I given the right to chose, and your mother after me.  I would not have you wait too long for there is much more to be gained in a love-match than lost.  I have known others who went to arrangements made by parents agreed and yet rarely was there true happiness. Determined resolve, quiet compliance, sad withdrawal, and bitter tears, but oh so rarely true happiness.   My father let me and my sisters choose our own, for both he and our mother had loved elsewhere and yet were bidden to marry because of their station.  At least they were friends to one another, and never was an unkind word spoken between them to my hearing, but sometimes I'd see one or the other staring sadly into the distance, and I always wondered if their old loves still lived....But they never told me, only that they promised to allow us to wed for love, or if not to do so for that, at least to a beloved friend, for at least there would be hope.     That they loved each other, I had no doubt, but they wanted something more sure for us than a gamble at life.  They had won in the end, but it might not have been so.  I chose my Black Irish lad, and Gwen chose God, Morgan chose a soldier and is long since the widow, Wrenne chose an Irishman as shy as my Hastar, but fair, with long locks of golden silk and a talent for the fiddle and Robert chose adventure for his bride.  We have all been most happy with our choices, myself surely most of all, though I should not speak for the others, as Wrenne is as devoted to her Callumn as Gwen to her Lord.  God willing, you may someday know the same to fill your life with laughing children.


   Once again I have been lost in happy memories andd forgotten the time.  If the candle burns much lower I shall not be able to tell ink from parchment and so I will close while I may yet still see my own hand.


Good night my princess, sleep you as warm as I beneath my waiting down and counterpane.


Love Gram



Copyright 2001 by R.D. Wertz. <windsingersmoon at yahoo.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org