Yesterday morning I was out wielding the ‘lie’ (pronounced ‘lee-ah’), kindly loaned by an unknown local lady, trying my best to look like the 14 year old girl I’d watched demonstrating its use (on an internet site called ‘The Scythe Connection’). For environmental reasons, it seems, the scythe is due for a comeback.
‘The Scythe Connection’ are people (actually a family, in Maine, USA) promoting the use of scythes because they use human, not fossil, energy. They describe the experience of using a scythe as a meditation, the movement from side to side being like a tai chi move (‘wave hands like clouds’). It is, they say, ‘the rhythmic movement of body, breath following, flowing, mind at peace’. On their website there are several short videos, and the first I watch shows a young girl cutting ‘swathes’ (what a wonderful word) through a field. It looks as if she is dancing with her scythe. It’s mesmerising, and the sound is a soft ‘swish swish swish’.
Then I really wanted to have a go, and was completely sold on the whole idea of getting out there and going with the flow of the land, and as a side-product actually managing to cut back some of our wilderness. I wasn’t prepared to copy the girl’s example and go barefoot in a floaty white skirt, but I was ready to commune with nature and have a transcendental experience nonetheless.
However, before I could do this the blade had to be sharpened. This, for me, was the tricky bit. I’m scared of sharp objects. The girl in the video sharpens her so speedily and with such confidence you can barely see the movements of her whetstone as it moves from one side of the blade to the other. That was never going to be me. My demonstration might become a bloody horror movie. So I just handed it over to Rolf and asked him to do it. Pathetic I know. He didn’t do it with the same panache as the girl, but I was grateful anyway.
I took the tool and stood, feet wide apart in the grass, thinking peaceful, flowing thoughts. My first movements were nothing like tai chi, or meditation. I got the blade stuck in the ground and I swore a lot. In time it did get a bit better, but I soon realised that cutting back weeds in Kiruna would never feel like cutting back hay in Maine. The ground here is lumpy and hilly, and half the plants bend over just when you want to cut them so the blade just slides over the top of them. Still, it was satisfying seeing the stems that were cut, and getting a feel for how to wield the tool, the movement beginning in the spine, not the arms.
Coincidentally to the ‘lie’ tale, a friend of mine recently wrote to me complaining about the way lawnmowers ruin a perfect summer’s afternoon. Just when you want to fling open those French doors, bask in the warm sunshine and listen to the gentle trill of birds, there’s the cough splutter and whirr of next door’s lawnmower or strimmer. She imagined a world where gardens were all wildflower meadows, with no lawns to be cut with noisy machinery. Now I know that if the neighbour’s wildflower meadow needed a trim she would much prefer the sound of a ‘lie’. It’s a repeating, gentle ‘swish swish’ sound. It sounds like the ‘lie’ is caressing the stems when it is actually cutting them.
As I’d been working against nature in my use of the ‘lie’, not with it (unlike the girl in the video), I soon became exhausted, and had to give up. I discovered all sorts of muscles in my back that I hadn’t realised were there. This morning each of them reminded me again, and all I wanted to do was lie on the sofa. My thoughts turned, instead, to poetry.
‘Heark how the Mower Damon Sung,
With love of Juliana stung!
While ev’ry thing did seem to paint
The Scene more fit for his complaint.
Like her fair Eyes the day was fair;
But scorching like his am’rous Care.
Sharp like his Sythe his Sorrow was,
And wither’d like his Hopes the Grass.’
(Extract from ‘Damon the Mower’ by Andrew Marvell)
I do recommend a look at the scything video. It may not change your attitude to lawnmowers but it will lower your blood pressure.