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Sarah was walking on a footpath between two flat fields. It was a late Spring afternoon, and the sky was huge. She watched as a tractor started to plough. At once, seagulls discovered it, and flocked in the tractor’s wake, screaming with joy at the worms and insects that were uncovered. The ground had been shallowly turned over, just scarified really. Perhaps it was for a crop that only needed a fine tilth.


But no. The tractor came to a halt near her, and the driver, immured in his glass cabin, reached for a lever and adjusted the height of the plough. The great blades were lowered, and it made her think about the  Roman chariots that scythed down their opponents. This was a serious ploughing job,  and the tractor set off. This time, the earth was more deeply turned over, and it soon became clear that it was inadvertently passing through some ancient settlement or burial site. Over a large area, bones and artefacts were  being uncovered and then destroyed. Sarah tried waving to the driver to alert him, but to no avail.


The rooks knew it first. There must still be nutritious pieces of bone and maybe gristle, although the field smelled wholesome. The birds swooped and called to their friends, until the sky was dark with wings. Harriers, kestrels, hawks ate their fill, even though their prey was inert. There was the occasional bright shard of metal, and the magpies  scooped it up for treasure. As the tractor moved to the horizon, Sarah stepped out gingerly, and saw the odd hank of bright hair and swatch of cloth. Even these were snatched away by the birds, to line their nests. Suddenly she realised that this was not a charnel-house: it was a sky burial.


The field had been ploughed from north to south, so that its harvest would receive the sun equally throughout the long days, and it had mounds and furrows which stretched away as far as her eyes could see. Potatoes would be planted there. It was now near sunset. Sarah found a little fragment of blue pottery, and put it in her pocket. It was a trophy of sorts. And it made her realise three things: that the past cannot always be preserved, that the dead can always succour the living, and that some sorts of nothingness are better than others.

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