Scythe-man

In the most recent incarnation of civic conscience, I found myself buried in a cloud of guilt. It’s from a morass of overgrowth that, malheureusement, can be seen by people driving by on the road. Actually, that, more than any principles instilled at my mother’s knees or enforced by public caning, was what encouraged me to deal with it.

I have a modest hobby farm whose tidying-up and composting used to be done by sheep. Everything always looked trimmed and gardened, and people would smile and wave at the woolies as they drove by. To my knowledge the waves were never reciprocated, let alone noticed, but city people are easily amused.

Of course, Time and bodies move on, and so one by one, the sheep were introduced to the grim reaper and the cutlery that tends to collect on urban tables around dinner. I miss them, naturally, but like servants -sorry, helpers– it’s mostly what they did that I miss. No longer can I sit idly on my porch like a British lord, and watch the lawn being mowed, fertilized, and raked. The occasional deer wanders by, it’s true, but mostly at night, and frankly they don’t do half the job the sheep did. And they don’t like the fields by the road either.

Unfortunately, the longer I pretend to leave the fields lying fallow, the more burdock I get and the less I am subsequently able to wander around without attracting an annoying assemblage of burrs waiting for a ride from anyone who doesn’t want to eat them.

Oh yes, and then there are the ticks. They ride on deer, but like kids, apparently fall off anything they are not tied to, and so they climb up the long grass hoping I’ll give then another chance. But Nature is sometimes forgiving to the stuff we want it to lock in a closet somewhere, isn’t it?

Anyway, one day, while sitting contentedly on my porch and watching the traffic slow as it passed, it occurred to me that perhaps people were watching the patterns of wind weaving its way through the long grass -W.O. Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind? prairie memories, sort of. I basked in that excuse for a while until it occurred to me, with a commensurate amount of guilt, that actually seeing the wind is rather seductive and might lead to an accident -or visitors.

And yet, the answer is not as easy as it might seem for a city person. The fields are bumpy from years of sheep egesta, not to mention neglect, and are strewn with rocks, roots, and partially marked graves from the animals that have died there. Well, not there exactly, but somewhere else where there were too many roots to dig a hole big enough for a ewe-sized coffin, and deep enough that a passing herd of dogs wouldn’t be able to unearth it. I usually mark the spot with boulders, but they’re hard to see in the grass. Anyway, it’s definitely not lawnmower territory.

Personally, I’d love one of those ride-around lawn tractors, but I doubt if they’re made for fields like mine. I think they’re designed for obese, rich, city people to show that their big, artificially-fertilized yards are just too big to mow by hand. Is that unfair? Okay, actually I just can’t afford one.

So, short of trying to do it with large scissors, or maybe a grassfire, I felt helpless. I had visions of the house eventually disappearing into a mosquito-infested everglade-like jungle of unusually tall grass -or worse, being trapped unawares one morning by huge burdock plants, waiting to unload their cargo on anything that moved. Do you remember that Sci-Fi story by John Wyndham about Triffids…? I mean, the Grim Reaper could claim me, and nobody would be the wiser.

And then, suddenly, in the midst of similarly morbid thoughts, there on the porch on a muggy windless Sunday, it came to me -not the Grim Reaper, you understand- an Epiphany. Death wasn’t the only person who could do it, I reasoned -although somewhat confused as to how to characterize it/him/her/they. I mean, he carries a scythe, right? And peasants in medieval Europe used to walk through the grass, swinging them, right (I’ve seen pictures)? So…

Finding a scythe not already in use was easier than I’d anticipated, and by promising not to cut my legs off, and to return it when I’d finished, I managed to find one not more than a 20 minute walk away. I walked because I didn’t figure it would fit in my little car without slicing up the seats, and I’m glad I did. It gave me a chance to try it out by swinging at weeds and slicing papers blowing along the road. I think the kids in the passing car seats enjoyed it too, because cars slowed, horns honked, and people generally gawked at me after crossing themselves and pretending to smile. One man shook his fist, but I think that was because I accidentally swung threateningly at his vehicle. You have to be careful with a scythe.

Anyway, when I got home, I sharpened the blade and headed for the closest field near the house. I forgot I’d left a hose in the grass from when I used to have to fill a tub for the sheep -well, it was a few years ago, eh? People forget things. I was really pleased how easily the blade went through the rubber, though. I can see why Death uses one.

After a few more practice swings, I was amazed at how quickly I was able to get into a rhythm. For some reason I was reminded of hula hoops -I suppose it’s the hip movements required. Whatever, I got going pretty quickly -oh, there were a few tussocks perhaps, and the clang of a rock or two, then the unexpected thud of a root now and then to jar me out of the Zen- but all in all, progress. Until, that is, I came to the first burdock. Their stems can be as hard as wood when they get to a certain height, you know. And if you’re not careful, they unleash their burrs in what I assume is an existentially motivated attack. It’d be enough to deter the Reaper it/him/herself, I’ll bet.

But I’m not deterred. I read somewhere that all you have to do is put a tarp over them for a few weeks and Bob’s your uncle. I don’t know if it works yet, but I’ve been scything all around the tarps, so the cars probably just think I’m growing something special. They’re a little disappointed with not being able to see the wind in the tall grass, I suppose, but I can’t be everything to everybody can I?

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