THE almond pickers rise before the sun. From white-walled houses tucked beneath trees they head into their groves before the milky luminescence of dawn gives form to the Alpujarra hills. They are busy people in a tranquil landscape. In the velvet shadows, the almond pickers are part of the landscape . . .
On my early-morning run I hear them beating the trees with long poles. They have spread nets on the ground to catch the almonds as they fall. They will dry them for a couple of days in a sunny courtyard, then bag them up to sell or store for winter.
I pass a group of almond pickers in the half-light – mostly men in stripy shirts and stout women of a certain age with a few barking dogs. They are adept at their labours, eyes squinting into a brightening sky as their sticks rasp high branches.
Further along the stony track there is more evidence of almond picking – a moped leaning against a tree; two trucks parked in a hollow; a distant burst of laughter and voices beneath the leafy canopy; more barking of dogs; the thwack of poles in foliage.
And I think: I’d like to be an almond picker – rising before the sun; trudging purposefully across a small plot of inherited land with my family about me; spreading nets upon the dry earth as the first rays of morning filter through leaves; standing in the shadows, like these weathered fellows, with a cigarette trapped between tight lips as I flay the branches – nuts and dry husks falling about my feet.
Later, I gather some almonds from the terraces above the house we are renting and smash them open with a two-pound shipyard hammer. As I sit chewing contentedly, I wonder why it is that almonds are always the last nuts to be finished off at Christmas. Almonds are invariably left in the bottom of the bowl after the peanuts, hazelnuts and walnuts have been cracked and consumed. Even those awkward Brazil nuts disappear before the almonds.
Another of life’s great mysteries. Sometimes an enquiring mind really can be a burden.