Sunday morning my brother and I trekked out (well, not actually trekked – we drove in the comfort of my car) to my aunt’s olive grove for an olive-pickin’ day. I don’t know much about olive trees and their care, but from what I was told they are a relatively low-key crop to take care of. You water the trees throughout the year and you gather a crew for a few days in the winter (such as this lovely January) to pick the olives.
The process is relatively simple. You lay a big plastic tarp underneath the tree and you use a plastic “rake” to scrape down all the branches of the olive tree. Once you gather enough olives on the tarp you slowly move all the olives to a big sieve to separate as many branches and leaves as you can from the olives. Then you can sack your olives up, take them to an oil-pressing factory and voila! You have fresh olive oil!
Anyways, I hope by this point y’all are still awake. It might sound boring to many people, but here in Greece agriculture is a big part of people’s lives. And let me tell you, Sunday I was re-introduced to the idea of “back-breaking” work. But there’s also a joy in getting your hands dirty and diligently going through the same motions all day. With the sun shining on your back and nothing but the sounds of scraping branches and falling olives, you really get a sense of connection to nature. To quote my mother: “When your hand touches the earth, your soul is at peace.” There’s a brief window of time when your mind is clear, focused on the task at hand and you really do feel at peace. All the trivial bullshit that so often inundates us at work is nowhere to be found. You breathe in the clean air, you feel your body moving and everything in the world is fine. For me, working in the field is also a way to connect to family. After all, this was the type of work that my great-grandparents, my grandparents and my parents grew up doing. This was the type of work that my family survived on throughout years of war, famine and poverty. To gather early in the morning, work together as family, eat lunch in the field and watch the sun set as you peer through the tree branches is pretty much my family history. It’s an honor to be able to continue it on.
The highlight of the day was my grandmother, who at 76 years old still has the cojones to last almost an entire day picking olives. Go grandma! We started work at 9 a.m. and at 3:30 p.m. she passed on her rake to me, laid down on the tarp and took a quick cat nap amongst the olive groves. This is a woman who could be sitting in a chair and she loses her breath. But put her in a field and she’ll start dancing. And I love how her hands are so chubby they look like little bread loaves.