The Susurration Of a Scythe

Two changes I will make, when I have the opportunity. I'll trade the aluminum snath for one of hickory, and I'll try to find a thinner blade, which wasn't available from the catalog. I strongly suspected a hickory snath (scythe shaft) would be better, but I followed my supervisor's instructions and bought aluminum. I can feel that a little more weight in the snath would not be a disadvantage, and the aluminum snath limits adjustment of the short wooden handles.

I've seen pictures of people cutting grass with scythes. The old-time models had a much thinner blade than this wide, somewhat clumsy one I use, and the long, curved snaths, to which the short handles are fastened, were wooden.

I used a scythe to mow the yard when we took care of a ranch in northeastern Oregon, but the years have gone, and I wasn't sure enough to really push for the more expensive hickory.

For a while, I think I will have to say I was wrong. I can't work the tool effectively. The first few swings, I jab the point of the two-foot-long blade into the ground. The blade and the handle bend, then spring back and throw cut dirt 20 feet. This is not the way it is done, and the blade is not sharp enough. It bends most of the grass rather than cutting it.

I sit down on the front step and file the blade. The stone that came with the scythe seems like a good idea, in keeping with tradition, but it doesn't work very well for me. With a steel file, I sharpen the blade. I touch the edge. It is sharp.

I start again.

For the grass that must be cut on the ranch I take care of, I've used a gas-powered weed-cutter for six years. I've intensely disliked the noise, pollution, and the violently thrown dirt, chopped weeds, and rocks. My supervisor finally agreed I could purchase a scythe, and the grass is long enough to cut.

I begin to understand the pattern of the work. I see how the blade has to be pulled into the grass to keep the point out of the dirt while cutting close to the ground. I begin to control where the blade throws the long grass, and I build a windrow. I will have an easier time pitchforking the grass off the yard to haul it away. This scythe I'm using for the first time this afternoon will work.

I pull the long blade through the tall grass and throw the grass behind me and to one side.

I think I am cutting almost as fast as I cut with the gas-powered weed-cutter, and I haven't established an effective rhythm yet. I will find that rhythm, and then the two-foot wide cuts may outpace the narrow swath of the motor-driven plastic cutters.

Even if I don't beat the speed of the weed-cutter, this is quiet work, a thud if the heel of the blade hits the ground, the sound of the sharp blade cutting grass, cut grass settling quietly on cut grass.

Below me on the meadow, a blackbird sings. His song carries clearly in quiet mountain air. The raven who likes to keep track of what I do flies over and croaks a ravenish croak. That might be a croak of approval, that I have at last found a quieter way to do the work.

And this way of cutting the grass is clean. The gas-powered cutter coats my shoes and trousers with violently thrown chopped grass and dirt. It dusts up, smokes up, stinks up the air, and puts windows in danger from flying debris. The scythe just throws cut grass past me.

This is no harder than running a heavy, loud, vibrating machine. This might even be easier, once I understand the most effective way to swing the tool. I won't be sure of that until I cut quite a bit of grass, which I won't do this afternoon.

MY quiet work allows me to hear thunder rumbling up the mountain west of me. My vision is not obscured by the eye protectors I must wear when I'm using the weed-cutter, and I see dark clouds coming down the mountain sky above me.

Rain blows in a hard wind, and I run for the house. I take the scythe inside. It has earned protection from the storm. It has already become a highly valued tool, and it will be here, warm and dry, when the grass dries enough to cut tomorrow.

Eventually, I will buy a hickory snath. Eventually, I might find an older, thinner, better-balanced blade. For now, what I have works well and takes me into a new, more enjoyable, more balanced method of work.

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