I used to love my power-strimmer. The day I bought it I considered myself finally a fully grown-up gardener. No lawn-edge would be let grow ragged, no path be spared. Dreadlocks beneath trees would get a military buzz-cut – a ‘bazzer’ in Cork slang – and anything that dared put its foot out of line would get the ‘shock and awe’ treatment.
I now hate it. It does more damage to me than I can inflict on any wayward weed. A half-hour with the wailing techno-flail leaves me with ears aching and arms trembling, and back in spasms. Feet and ankles get pasted with green blood and my spirit gets clogged with disgust at the carnage. It is smelly and graceless and an abomination in the sight of nature.
But quite separately, in a distant part of my mind, an alternative device was taking shape, a different approach signalled.
If Peak Oil is the call to examine how life would be lived in the future, then all aspects of the house and garden would have to be scrutinized. I can’t remember now which website it was that led me there but just a week ago I stumbled upon this simply delightful video of a young woman scything grass. The grace of her swing, the economy of action in whetting the blade, the neat tumbling of the hay – everything proclaimed this to be so far from the horror of the petro-flail as to be of a different world. And it made the prospect of that different world of the not-so-far future, slightly less alarming – in fact possibly welcoming.
So with a little help from cuil the new search engine formed by ex-google people, I raced around the intrawebs gathering armfuls of info – see links on the right. And at last sunday’s vide-grenier (literally, empty attic meaning flea-market or carboot sale) in the nearby village of Fabrezan, I found a scythe. Now this is not so remarkable in a country that is still one of the most rural in Europe. I’ve been walking past (occasionally admiring) old tool stalls at street markets for years, and I have a dusty pile of tools in the workshop, that once belonged to my father or Mary’s. Some market stalls have impressive displays of tools lovingly refurbished, sharpened and oiled – others are scattered piles of rusty and blunt implements, heaped together with other bricabrac and obviously part of a barn-clearing exercise.
This scythe was an early european model fastened at the bottom of the snath by means of a steel collar and a wedge. The blade was long and well-used, but in good condition and remarkably sharp. It came with its own short steel anvil, stone-holder and whetstone. Fifty euros was a reasonable price considering a new tubular set from the hardware store would have been seventy, with anvil, stone and holder extra. But it was more than I wanted to spend on my first try – plus I wasn’t impressed with the straight light-pine snath and flimsy handles that he had tarted it up with. He admitted that it was more of a display object than a working scythe. So I bought a fine old olive-wood handled sickle for 18, and a little-used draw-knife for 12. We settled on 28 euros for the two of them, and we assured eachother that we’d meet again at some other street-market in some other village. I think he knows he’s found a regular.
Here’s the sickle – it’s righthanded while I am mostly sinister (that’s latin – in French it’s gaucher ). It’s sharp enough to slice a leaf in half.