Olive picking has begun early this year in Tuscany. The grape harvest has only just finished on the lower slopes of our valley. Two generations ago vines trailed along the edges of the strips of fields on the terraces but they have since died, untended. They used to be trained over poles and wires supported by stone pillars with holes chiselled at the top. The younger generation left to work in factories. Vines need intensive labour in spring and autumn. They are prone to disease and have to be sprayed with copper sulphate that covers them in a pale blue film. Olives are more robust. No one knows when they were planted on the hillsides. It was after the earth was shored up into terraces with the rocks cleared from the hillsides centuries ago. Did the Etruscans do it first or the Romans?
Olives too can pick up diseases or pests. It depends on whether there is rain in May when small pale yellow, unexciting flowers peep out from behind their evergreen silvery leaves. Flies lay eggs under the trees and the bugs eat the olives. That happened two years in succession not long ago, but this year there is a fine harvest. October sunshine has brought three generations of families to the hillside olive groves at the weekend and grandparents during the week.
Yesterday a yellow helicopter hovered right over us. Someone had fallen from an olive tree even though a law was passed a few years ago making it illegal for anyone but members of the family to harvest olives. All olive trees had to be severely pruned so the olives could be picked from the ground. It was an unrealistic law overturning centuries of countryside co-operation that would obviously be ignored. Since time immemorial, so the saying goes, every healthy person in the countryside, young or old, helps one another with the harvest. School holidays were arranged around it. There was nowhere for the helicopter to land on the terraced fields speckled with olive trees so it had to use a football field near the road at the foot of the valley. An ambulance was finally called, as it should have been in the first place using the road and track to reach the victim. A bone broken – nothing too serious. It often happens at olive picking time, but no one knows who called the helicopter.
Autumn colours have come late this year, probably because it has been so warm and sunny that the trees and bushes thought it was still summer! The shimmering poplars by the stream are the first to lose their foliage. The dark evergreen holm oaks, bay and laurel bushes contrast with the narrow golden leaves on the pomegranate bushes and the bright yellow ones on the vines. A few more days of mist before the hour changes and the valley slumbers into winter.