It begins in the dark, with flashlights, before the first prayer call. Orion’s sword still sparkles in the night sky. Morocco’s Anti Atlas Mountains loom darkly, stippled green. They turn pink in the dawn light and the hunter’s constellation disappears. Everything human seems small and temporary in the vast open valley.
Just outside Taliouine, about four hours south of Marrakech by car, men plant the crocus bulbs and care for the fields, but the late-autumn saffron harvest is mainly women’s work. Four men sit on crates drinking small glasses of mint tea, watching five women fan out across almost two-football-fields-worth of tidily arranged plots. They move from row to row, bent at the waist, chatting. When the conversation stops, I can hear each flower’s small squeak, as fingers pinch and pull the closed blossoms from their green stems. They grow so quickly that, even in a bad year, it’s difficult to avoid stepping on the flowers. One woman says that after a tour of the field she will find new blooms when she returns to the same spot an hour later.