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 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.