Have you seen the Big Lebowski? The Dude, hopelessly adrift, finds purpose and grand adventure in recovering a stolen rug that was the keystone of his humble abode. That’s how I feel about the scythe on the farm. Like, The Dude’s feng shui, the farm’s flow is totally blocked without it.
How strange that the scythe became the tool of choice for that dark-robed empty-faced personification of death itself, the grim reaper. It is true that the steely device can be used to extinguish (annual weeds, for example) and harvest (wheat), but I can’t think of another piece of technology that is as efficient at redistributing resources on the landscape, encouraging fertility, and therefore life.
I am no expert on the history and variations of this tool throughout agricultural regions. Those wonderful geeks are accessible with a quick internet search. I am not even close to mastering its full usage and maintainence. But, in the past year and a half I have become very, very functional.
I can use the scythe to clear tall vegetation, even blackberry and thistle, away from electric wire. I can cut a quarter acre of hay in a morning (starting a bit before dawn when the grass is dewy). I can mow clover and cart it over to the livestock for a breakfast salad before I leave for the day job. I can harvest a truckload of rush and reed for garden mulch mid-winter in about an hour. I’ve even seen a video of a scythe wielder trimming fir saplings.The smoke-belching, toe-severing, clog-prone riding mower frequently takes a backseat to swooshing swaths at our homestead. Of course, there is a time and a place for machinery. A string trimmer does a better job right up against wire fence, a narrow space, or rocky ground. Our 4′ wide Husquvarna mower is considerably quicker on the flats, but the byproduct is a pulpy mass that isn’t good for much other than compost.
The key to the scythe’s efficiency is in how thin and sharp one can get and keep the edge. This takes a process of peening and honing that I won’t get into here. Also, important is technique. “Keep it on the ground and bring it around,” is a good mantra to repeat. The cutting happens by slicing, not chopping and an arc of motion is best to achieve ease. It is a full body movement, not unlike tai chi, that is energizing rather than depleting when done right.
The wildlife also stand a better chance at survival when the scythe is implemented. Insects, spiders, frogs, snakes, etc. Gwen is still traumatized about mowing over a nest of baby rabbits the first weekend on the homestead (she grew up with a bunny as a pet). The scythe also allows for selecting which plants or young trees you want to keep rather than decapitate. Just back the blade up to the desirable and pull away.
For peace and quiet. For simplicity and elegance. For harvest and management. For independence and interdependence. The scythe will remain the most used and most loved tool on our farm, connecting all the various systems (water, soil, crops, livestock, pasture, human, wild) together.