Scything with the Reaper

I have taken to scything in the morning.  It is so much better than that efficient but horribly American invention, the weed whacker.  Small petrol engines are my nemesis in any case, and with my rural life, I cannot avoid frequent fights with chain saws, lawn mowers, outboards, pumps, cultivators, generators, drills … and the early summer demands the weed whacker.

But last autumn I picked up a scythe at the local organic fair, the Common Ground, loving the concept but afraid it would lie fallow.  It hasn’t.  I chose a tougher blade for the stemmy weeds I need to keep down.  The scythe comes in a kit, and I used it for a while before I glued the handles into their final position just right for my proportions and motion.

Part of the kit is a fared sharpening stone, which sits in a plastic holster on your belt.  The holster has water in it to keep the stone wet.  Every fifteen minutes or so, you stop scything and wipe the wet stone down across each side of the blade to keep it sharp.  It’s a moment of rest, to survey your work and plan out the next sally.

If you hit a stone or a root, the blade will get a bad nick, at which point the iron blade must be peened out with a small hammer and sharpened again.

Scything itself works better in the morning, when the plants are wet with due.  The thin blade sings, lovingly gathers an 8” swath of grass and weeds, cuts it at the shin so it swishes down into a neat row.  (Which brings us to Capricorn – the Grim Reaper is Saturn, ruler of Capricorn, who cuts us off at the knee when he harvests us for the underworld, where we will all go one day.  Therefore, in esoteric anatomy, fear of death is associated with Capricorn and located in the knees.)

The surprise is the depth and soothing nature of the movement: The motion is calm and old, a rotation that begins in the rolling of the feet and rises easily to the inner thigh and pelvis, producing a twist of the torso with the elbows held close to the sides, like in 50’s dancing.  Once the motion is achieved, it is  effortless.

When I ‘end gain’ – stop staying in the process and start thinking about how much I have to get done or what’s next – I start working with my arms, and the motion and results become hectic, chaotic, and tiring. When I am in the groove, I feel like Tolstoy’s peasants, marching across a field with the wheat sighing and laying down for the harvest.

Although I do cut some grass every morning for Quan’s rabbits, my main job is to get to the weeds along the edges where the mower cannot, and in this I have become adept at sliding the blade between rocks and trees to snicker out the weeds without scouching its edge.

The whole process is very slow and satisfying, and can be done around houses in the early morning without the nasty mosquito whine of that damned weed whacker with its flying string.  Donna emerges to put the horses out to pasture. I wipe the wet blade gently with thumb and forefinger and set the scythe on its nail to shower and face the emails.

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