I love this word and its related agricultural cohort, winnow.
Driving to work this morning, I ended up behind a gleaner moving from one soybean field to another situated slightly south on the same road. The link below, thanks to Flickr, takes you to a nice photo of a soybean gleaner at work.
Glean: to gather grain or other produce left by reapers. Or, to gather information or material bit by bit.
Winnow: to remove (as chaff) by a current of air. Or, to get rid of, remove (as of something unwanted); to sift or separate. [Merriam-Webster].
Wonderful words for writers, useful as metaphorical or concrete actions, these terms have etymological roots going back to that ancient and particularly human business–agriculture. Lately, I’ve been working on revising some poems, and winnowing is part of that process.
I’ve also been helping my parents to “downsize” as they move from the house they’ve lived in for years into a much smaller apartment. Significant winnowing was involved in several aspects of the word: we got rid of, we sifted through, and we separated. We did a bit more vacuuming than allowing currents of air to sweep away the dust that lingered in the closets, however.
But we also gleaned. Or, shall I speak for myself here--I gleaned. Sorting through books and photo albums and drawers full of things we feel we should save for some reason offers a means of gathering information bit by bit. What for my parents was likely a review of life was, occasionally, revelatory for my siblings and me.
(Etymological aside: review and revelatory have different sources, the latter being much older).
My father’s sermon file and his school ribbons for elocution or winning debates and the books he just couldn’t bear to part with vs. the books he reluctantly let go–these are gleanings.
My mother’s elementary school report cards, her childhood drawings of Japanese ladies with parasols (I never knew she used to draw), faded photos of the high school trip to Washington D.C., the prom invitation, the letters we wrote from college–also gleanings.
From these gleanings I have reaped more than I expected.
So we reap and then we glean and then we winnow and, from that winnowing, we glean again and reap again. Sounds like what I do in my garden annually. Sounds like what the farmer does every year, too, though these days the reaping and gleaning, and much of the winnowing, are done in one go with a very large piece of farm equipment…such as the one which slowed me on my commute to work this morning and which led to this digression.