Thursday, January 28, 2010

With Whispers: Talking Scythes

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Small patches of sunlight intersperse a field of snow and balsam tree shadows below my office window. 14 mourning doves quietly peck cracked corn and eat millet from beneath the platform feeder. A lone red squirrel offers personal neglect for raptors as it runs across the meadow by the John Deere tractor. The squirrel is carrying--borrowing--stealing yet another cone from a bucket of Norwegian Fir cones that Gail left by the back door.

January is fleeting but the next couple evenings will be reminder to what typical Vermont winter nights can offer. Tonight we expect zero readings but tomorrow night the fire will have to work a tad harder in the wood stove as temperatures will be in the minus numbers.

January is the month when the Vermont Farm Show arrives for a midweek display in Barre, Vermont. I have been just about every year since we moved here in 1989. I work with small businesses and sometimes with farmers in my real world job so the show is a time to see lots of new ideas in a few hours. This year the old time farmers are more absent and if one hadn't bumped into me as his cane went thumping to the floor, I might have completed my first ever year without a good "farmer" discussion.

As I toured the show, back and forth, up and down the aisles, trying to squeeze into what displays I wanted to see, I came upon Carol Bryan and Richard Scott and their display for Carol's business, Scythe Supply. They are from Perry, Maine which is a town about as far north in the US as you can get. It's past Lubec and Eastport and I imagine it shakes hands with Canadian friends every day.

Bear with me a minute. When my dad moved us to Vermont in the early 50's he was intent on being some kind of farmer. Made no sense to the rest of us but as time went on, we had opportunity to see what old time farming was all about. Dad was 6 feet 6 inches tall before he started to shrink and he seemed to enjoy cutting hay for the goats and cows with a scythe he found hanging in the barn when we arrived. It was at that early age that I learned the words scythe and snath and began to assimilate the rhythm of swinging a scythe and hand mowing grasses.

As some of you know, I enjoy the poetry of Robert Frost and I maintain a few of his books in my library as well as a hosta in my garden named after him by his good friends and neighbors, the Lachmans, in 1988. Frost wrote a poem entitled Mowing in 1913, and he used the sounds conjured by swinging a scythe as he explained to readers that work is not a bad thing. I really like what Frost wrote and I like scythes too.....and I'm not afraid of work.

So I came upon Carol at the Vermont Farm Show and was immediately impressed by her as a fine business woman and by the products she sells. That's why I invite you to check out her website, and if you need a scythe, give her a call or visit her website.

Carol told me about The Scythe Book and I'll leave it to you to check out what's behind it by reading about it on her site Scythe Supply. It represents many old books that should be brought back for the latest generation to learn by.

Carol has a relationship with an Austrian manufacturer who does a fine job making blades for her scythes. She offers two snath types and about ten blades made especially for cutting grass, mowing ditches or cutting bushes. The blades are for right or left handed mowers and this is important when ordering or using.

I liked the European design on the snaths because the handles make it much easy to grip and exert pressure. Sorry the picture of the handles isn't bettter but you'll get the idea. These are quite different than the American scythe I trained on where the handles needed tightening and and always needed repositioning after dad finished and before I started with the same piece.

Carol is a small business person just like Gail and me. It's tough work and there are days when you keep asking Why? But when you have a fine product and you are rewarded by the compliments others share, you keep moving on. If I think about it for a minute, I can almost hear the whisper of the scythe in Frost's Mowing. Maybe you can to. If you didn't make the farm show, get over to and see the full selection. There's a lot of learn about a tool from the past that continues today....especially when it whispers to you!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where winter garden thoughts always include good gardening friends.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

1 comment:

Salix said...

Hi George, the scythes business sounds interesting!
When a little girl, I often spent days during school vacations at my aunt and uncle's small farm. During the early sixties my uncle still farmed "the old way" without a tractor, but using his two horses for everything. During the summer he would cut some fresh grass in the meadow with his scythes and feed it to his pigs. One day - as I was "helping" him, I got too close when collecting the grass and he cut me. I still have the scar and believe I am lucky that I didn't loose a finger.
The cones - are they Norway spruce, or Nordman fir (Abies nordmanniana)? I have been looking for a source for Nordman fir - eigher seeds or seedlings!