We’re talking about good vibrations #this weekend

The scythe feels surprisingly light when I lift it. It swings through the clover easily, and the movement feels natural, though I know I’ll get smoother with practice. And the feel of it makes clear — if you’re going to cut grass with a knife, you want the blade to be sharp.

It’s an agile kind of skill, and it’s exhilarating. I’ve been waiting for this morning since early spring — Shelby and Steve Howland from Howland Tools in Shelburne Falls have come to the Working Hands, Working Lands series at Williamstown Rural Lands, to teach a tradition centuries old. Shelby tells us he likes the quiet efficiency of it, getting outdoors on a summer morning and knowing what’s growing in his yard and fields.

That’s partly why I’m here — I want to care for the land where I live, and the native plants and pollinators who live here with me. And now I know what scything feels like, I’m finding out I love it the way I love rolling pie crust or driving a stick shift, or cantering a farm horse up an old wood road. It’s a skill you get to know by feel and subtle vibration.

Shelby Howland demonstrates how to peen and sharpen a scythe blade at Williamstown Rural Lands.
Scything

Shelby Howland demonstrates how to peen and sharpen a scythe blade at Williamstown Rural Lands.

Shelby shows us how to sharpen the scythe when you’re in the field — an easy flicking motion when he does it, like a fiddler flying through a reel. He hands around the sharpening stone. It’s wet and as smooth as find sand paper, as long as my hand and tapered like a canoe.

He lets me try gliding it down the knife edge while he can watch and correct my grip and angle when I’m holding it against the metal. And I think of making bread, the way I learned from my mother — you know how the dough feels when you’ve kneaded it smooth, and you can tell when a loaf is baked through by turning it over to thump the bottom and listen for the sound it makes.

This weekend …

Tanglewood is at it’s height — looking ahead to a BUTI concert of harp music in tribute to the BSO’s longtime principal harpist, Ann Hobson Pilot, on Sunday, and a performance honoring acclaimed poet Rita Dove tonight — and National Poet Joy Harjo next week, and the Silk Road Ensemble with Rhiannon Giddens and more.

Events coming up …

Find more art and performance, outdoors and food in the BTW events calendar.

Berkshire sculptor Robin Tost's Spirit Bear honors the relatives of the black bears who live in the Berkshires.
May 23 2024 @ 9:00 am
The annual celebration of local creativity returns with more than 100 hands-on or behind-the-scenes events and open studios across the region, from May 17 to 27.
Mass MoCA catches sunlight on a summer day.
May 23 2024 @ 11:00 am
Mass MoCA and the Williamstown Theatre Festival present The Plastic Bag Store, an immersive, multimedia experience by Brooklyn-based artist Robin Frohardt.
Plums gleam in purple and gold at a farmers market table.
May 23 2024 @ 3:00 pm
The West Stockbridge Farmers Market offers fresh produce — fruits and vegetables in season, eggs, meats and cheeses, breads and baked goods, fudge and jams and more.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

If you’d like to see the website grow, you can join me for a few dollars a month, enough for a cup of coffee and a cider doughnut. Members get access to extra stories and multimedia, itineraries a bookmark tool. Let me know what you're looking for, and we’ll explore together.

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