It makes you want to burst into song. You know, that cheesy Oklahoma number: There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow. There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow.*
When I was small, and we still lived in Love Lane House in the midst of the Cheshire countryside, my mother would always sing as she went around the house doing chores. This song was a favourite: Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day. She had a nice voice and always sang with great gusto. This in turn provided much needed reassurance on days when Miss Goodwin put in an appearance. Wednesdays. She was mother’s home help, and she came once a week to clean the acres of red quarry tile floors that ran throughout the house.
To a child she was an alarming gnome-like figure. Her straggle of black, limp hair had much in common with the wet floor mop that she wielded with dogged determination. As she twisted the mob head in the bucket, she would peer down at me through round, black-rimmed spectacles that made her eyes stand out on stalks. I thought she was probably a witch. I also associate her with green liquid soap – a cleaning product of times past. It had a repellent smell.
But mother went on singing, and all seemed well apart from the line about the corn being as high as an elephant’s eye.
This was a mystifying notion for a country child who, though surrounded by farm fields, had never seen elephants there, nor crops that grew so tall. My father worked for an agricultural merchants, and early on I learned the difference between the grain crops he dealt in. In those days we did not know much about American corn, which we anyway call maize, and corn was a word commonly used to refer to wheat.
A case of cereal confusion then.
Many decades later when I was out and about on Kenyan farms, and wondering at the height and vigour of some of the maize plots, I could well see how you might lose an elephant or two in there. In fact African elephants are very partial to scoffing poor farmers’ white maize crops just as they are ready to harvest. They can eat in a night produce that would have lasted a family half a year.
Anyway, there are clearly no elephants in the wheat/corn in the photo. It is only half a metre tall. But the light is truly extraordinary. A false dawn ripening since in reality the crop is still green with only the barest signs of turning. I kept my eyes open long enough to frame the shot and then went back to bed, inner sight still glowing from the vision: did I really see that strange light, and does this happen on other mornings when I’m not awake?
Mother’s voice comes winging back across the years: I’ve got a wonderful feeling/ Everything’s going my way. Did I ever believe this back then? Mother was someone who ever came with undercurrents, despite the nice singing. For some reason the cornfield elephant I now picture has eyes the colour of summer-blue skies, which is odd. All of which is to say, childhood impressions, layer on layer, randomly and silently absorbed in the presence of unaware adults, can run deep. Like elephants in cornfields, you just never know when they’re going to ambush you.
*Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, music by Richard Rogers copyright 1943 Williamson Music