Hitting the hay

Country Life UK|June 24, 2020

Hitting the hay
Early one June morning, when the dew has condensed on the grass, John Lewis-Stempel sets off to mow a mini-meadow with the aid of his trusty ‘grim-reaper’ scythe
John Lewis-Stempel

I HAVE an addiction. I scythe grass. Every year, I scrabble around for a bit of meadow that is, putatively, ‘too steep’ for the tractor-towed mower, where the corners are a ‘bit tight’, and only scything by hand will do.

This year, my eyes narrowed on the end of the orchard, awaiting planting-up with fruit trees in the autumn. A quarter of an acre. A pathetic fix. It’s something. I need to hear the swish of the blade through grass, sniff the honeyed scent of it all—clover, vernal, sorrel—and feast my eyes on the gorgeousness of full-grown grass. This will do.

Small can be beautiful. That little plot is a mini flowery mead, Pollocked with the red, white and blue of summer blooms. The air is dense with butterflies and bees, the stems of the glistening grass—waist-high!— run with rove beetles and wolf spiders and interesting insecty things.

A meadow pipit nests there. I have waited frustrated for her three fat little offspring to leave the family den. They did so on Monday. Today is Wednesday. I gave the titlarks their chance. Now, at last, is my time to mow.

My scythe is the grim-reaper sort, although made of lightweight tubular metal, rather than traditional ash wood. The peasantry of Olde England had musculature the gym loads at David Lloyds would swoon for.

There is a certain amount of rigmarole: attaching the blade to the snath, checking the hafting angle... but the terminology is a compensation, full and satisfying as it rolls around the mouth, like Kentish ale or Welsh farmhouse cheese.


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June 24, 2020