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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Luis Baraiazarra Txertudi > Extracts

Essay (literary and non-literary)

Meņakako Udala | Nire umetako Meņaka


THE CHILDREN'S TASKS


On the farm there was a job for everyone, and for the children, too. Besides our school homework, we were expected to do other things like keeping an eye on the cows, fetching water, cutting firewood, watching out for broody hens, leading the oxen, running errands, doing whatever we were told to do by our parents or elders...

Long before it got dark the cows used to be taken out to the field whenever the weather was good; that was in spring and summer. I used to love being in that field behind the house. At that time there were no pine trees in the Ugarte thicket and a superb view was to be had from behind the house. If you looked closer to hand you could see the Ugarte hut and the pasture around it; the cattle there also used to be out in a field. There was a super dog called "Oker", who was an excellent rounder-up of livestock. Further off was the Chapel of Santa Marina on the road to Elordui; as you looked towards the left, you could see the Larragan area and the rocks of Urduliz beyond. The sun used to set in that area leaving its fiery print everywhere. Nightfall behind the Urezandigoiko house was wonderful. Cows chewed away leisurely in that absolute peace. Horned beetles used to come and go between the Etxezuri wood and the huge oak next to our house. We were naughty and would not leave them alone. We stopped them flying to and fro and hit them with sticks to make them fall to the ground. Then we would organise fights between them; we could hear the sound when their horns locked. The sad hoots of the night owl could be heard in the Ugarte thicket and the Etxezuri wood. Bats resembled black flashes of lightning in their fitful flights. That meant it was time to bring the cows inside. Thus ended every night when the weather was good, a delightful evening in the company of the cows.

When I was ten and until I went to a boarding school run by Carmelites my job was to chop wood. When oak and many other trees had been pruned, there used to be plenty of firewood around our house. The job was easier when the wood was carried to the shed; anyhow, as you went down the road to Urezandi, there were oak trees and yet more of them in the small hollow near the hills on the left before you got to Kukusolo. There I chopped away to my heart's content. I used to work in the evenings to the sound of my axe. I would put the wood I chopped in a basket and carry it home on my shoulder. I did that evening after evening. That place was a kind of hollow; that was why there was little to see from there; there were no beautiful views like the one I had behind the house when I tended the cows. But each place had its own mystery; besides, nature was as pure as it could be in the absence of any pine forests or anything else. Without realising it, my heart leisurely absorbed it all. There I could not hear the screeching of the night owl in the Ugarte thicket, but I could hear the long, loud whistle of the Mungia train. At that time I had never been on that train; I had never even been to Bilbao, so just imagineā! A friend of mine used to say that when they were children they lived just like in the Middle Ages. I don't think that our life was any more modern than theirs.

At that time our distant cousins from Bilbao, the Otazuas, used to come and stay. When I went to the boarding school run by the Carmelites, Antonio from Bilbao used to say: "Who is going to chop the wood here now?"

I certainly heard the scraping of the Mungia train from the spot where I used to chop the firewood, but it was not until later that I actually got to see it. I was to travel on it frequently on my way to Zornotza and back home. The Mungia train was famous; the father of Telmo Zarra, the famous Athletic Bilbao football player, was the stationmaster; Telmo himself used to hang around there from time to time. When Jose Luis Ureta and I were travelling home from Bilbao on that train, it entered a tunnel practically the moment it left the city and inside it made a tremendous racket and clanking sound; for a moment we thought the end of the world was approaching...

The Mungia train was withdrawn from service many years ago. It was replaced by a bus service. Maybe it was better from an economic point of view. But we dreamers who loved the past greatly regretted the train's demise. But we were talking about the tasks we used to be assigned as children, so let's get back to that.

The jobs we must have hated most were leading the oxen and keeping an eye on the broody hens.

Mother always used to keep a lot of hens. At that time they were allowed to roam free the whole time; the area in front of the house and all around was full of hens, chickens and chicks. They used to root out insects and seeds on the dung heap; anyhow, mother used to look after the hens very well. Many of them used to lay their eggs in the hayloft of the house. At one side above the door that led from the shed to the stable was a proper place for them and there used to be hens' nests there next to each other. We used to take away the eggs and replace them with a fake egg. When the hens became broody and were ready to hatch their chicks, we used to say that the hens were sitting. Some of our hens liked to go to the wood. They used to go a long way away to lay their eggs: to Etxezuri wood, to the Ugarte thicket, to the Goiko wood and to the Sakone hollow... Just imagine! When I used to go in search of birds' nests I would come across hens' nests. What I wanted was to find birds nests, especially ones belonging to blackbirds, magpies and jays; but mother wanted us to find hens' nests. A couple of times or so I found one in the same place when I was out looking for birds' nests: in the Ugarte thicket, a few metres from our Basabe field. The hen was in the undergrowth ensconced among fallen leaves. She was sitting on the two occasions and had masses of eggs underneath her, they poked out from under her breast and wings. I showed the place to mother; she broke one of the eggs and found that it was fresh; she put the rest in her apron and we happily went home. We had lots of hens but she preferred to have eggs rather than chicks. I used to find hens' nests unexpectedly in other places, too.

It was one thing to find them in passing or unexpectedly and quite another to watch a broody hen... That happened whenever the weather was good. Whenever mother saw a hen beginning to cluck around the middle of the morning, she knew the bird would soon be heading for her nest; mother would put down a bit of maize and tell me or my sister to keep an eye on the hen.

You had to be careful. Without frightening her by following her too closely but at the same time without losing sight of her. A broody hen was clever and would spend a long time pretending to be leisurely eating insects and seeds. All of a sudden she would disappear from sight as she went behind a bramble or flew a short distance; I would go to where I thought she was and there would be no sign of her. I would look all over the place for her, but to no avail. If you weren't careful one day, you'd have to keep an eye on her the next day. Sometimes, when the job of keeping an eye on her had been done well, we succeeded in finding the nest; other times it was impossible, and the broody hen would hatch her chicks in a hiding place in the wood... A few days later there was a most delightful scene: the broody hen would come clucking along the road from Domika with her entire family, her chicks all together under her wings and close behind her; they would happily go cheep-cheep while the hen went cluck-cluck. What a sweet procession! And I expressed the picture in the following verse:

One baking bright morning
a crowd makes it way!
The broody hen lovingly
goes cluck-cluck;
a bobbing, bouncing rhythm
just like yellow balls;
cluck-cluck and cheep-cheep
they pleasantly converse,
a delightful picture
brightens up the path.

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