Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Susurration of a Scythe

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Susurration of a Scythe

Article excerpt

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. …

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