Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Robert Frost has a poem about mowing a field with a scythe. It is a warm, still day. There is no sound but the almost inaudible swish, swish of the blade as it lays the grass in rows. "What was it it whispered?" he asked of the scythe. Not the gift of idle hours or riches, he decides, but the sweetness of honest labor.

When we first came here 41 years ago, our neighbors still cut hay with a scythe, raked it with hand-made wooden rakes, piked it into cocks. Many a hot summer day I helped, although I never mastered the scythe. To lay the grass in long clean rows with a whispering swish, swish is an art one doesn't master in a day, or a summer. Perhaps one has to be born with it.

Nor was I let to hone the glistening blade, another art that's passed perhaps from father to son. Plying the rake was about the only chore they let me do, and even then my piles of hay didn't measure up to snuff. Honest work, it was, but for me the scythe whispered a defiant hiss, hiss.

I was thinking of Frost's scythe today as I mowed my own rough field. Mowed? Is that the word for what my petrol-powered strimmer was doing as it chewed noisily through the grass? It didn't whisper; it howled. And I was bundled up in harness, safety goggles and ear muffs, insulated from grass and sun and breeze. I never broke a sweat.

The sweetness of honest labor? A roaring abomination is more like it, adding my own contribution to noise pollution and global warming. But there really isn't an alternative if I'm to keep the field in trim. Too late to learn the art of the scythe. And who would teach me? In the fields below where I used to help my neighbors make summer cocks -– stopping occasionally for a cup of tea in the shade of a hedge -- big contracted machines now cut the grass and wrap it up in cylindrical bales of black plastic. No more "the earnest love that laid the swale in rows." No more the whispering steel