Monday, May 6, 2013

The scythe

A while back I promised to tell you about Guy’s scythe. He follows Kelly’s Cool Tools faithfully ( and not long ago the site featured a beautiful hammered steel scythe made in Austria and sold at two outlets in the US, one in Tennessee, the other in Maine. Last summer when we visited the States, he decided to purchase his own to bring to Brazil. The ash handles for the scythes are custom-made in the United States, to the measurement of the buyer. So Guy sent in his measurements and a few days before our return trip the final product was delivered to him at his cousin’s in Bangor, PA.

It has proven to be an invaluable tool and because of its beauty as well as its efficiency it has provided us much pleasure. I wrote a short story about the snath, the handle, which was packed separately because of its length and almost got lost on the plane trip to Brazil. See the story at the end of this post.  

Guy checks out his brand new scythe at his cousin's place in Bangor, PA.

The grass in what used to be a pasture before we fenced it in needs to be cut.

Grass tall and growing.

Almost a half-acre of meadow behind the horseshoe garden.

Guy gets ready, sharpens the blade.
The cows would be happy to crop the grass but they'd eat everything else we panted too. 
Mission accomplished. Greta raked up the cut grass into piles.

The Snath's Tale
I arrived to the hands of my rightful owner weeks, two months, after I had every reason to expect – and the same goes for him. He had every right to expect me to accompany him on his trip and arrive at his final destination along with him and his wife.
Things got messed up even before the fateful journey. But first let me tell you a little about myself. I am a custom-made ash handle, technically a snath, for an Austrian scythe that was featured, if you remember, in the March 10th edition of Cool Tools. My eventual owner was a faithful follower of that blog and, I came to learn, determined to have the scythe for the country plot he was developing in Brazil, along with his part-Brazilian wife.
They came to the States in May and after a failed attempt to purchase the object of his desire directly at the site in Sumney, Tennessee, he initiated his successful effort to obtain his scythe through the Maine company. I learned most of this later, of course, from conversations I picked up over the years, though some of my information I garnered from the carpenter who created me during the early part of July, 2012. If  you’re wondering how I came to have such a sophisticated vocabulary, at least for a simple farm tool, it was mostly thanks to this early carpenter, who listened to her radio while she worked. It was always tuned to NPR or the university station and I heard a lot of literary talk as well as stuff like Lake Woebegoen and Car City. As I said, I was customed-made – I mean how many tool handles are custom-made nowadays? But this is part of the excellence of the … scythe: it takes into account the size and proportions of the purchaser, the person who is going to be wielding the blade. I admit that I got a bit of ribbing from the other handles that were being fashioned at the same time because I was clearly the shortest, and it bothered me at the time partly because I was young and immature but mostly because I had no idea of the adventures that were in store for me. Had I known I could have turned them all green with envy.
By July 16th I was ready to be packaged up and mailed off to an address in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I overheard comments to the effect that my new owner was impatient to receive me and I soon learned the reason for his hurry. He and his wife had tickets to leave, for Brazil of all places, on the 31st of that month.
I already expected a short owner so I wasn’t at all disappointed to meet the guy, short, yes, but well-proportioned, a full but neatly trimmed beard, and kind, intelligent blue eyes. I was delighted when the first day, as soon as he picked me up in my awkward packaging, long and odd-shaped, he unpacked and assembled me. Frankly I was excited to meet my companion, the beaten-steel blade that looks like the grim-reaper’s tool. You should understand that this meeting was like an arranged marriage and if all went well it would be for life, as long as we both should survive. I’m afraid I’m getting a little breathless here but suffice it to say that our first hours together, swinging gracefully across a soft summer lawn, me doing my part as intermediary between our owner’s inexperienced but honest strokes and my partner’s exquisite slicing skills. ah, those virgin moments were unforgettable, forever engraved in my fibers. 
But the coming weeks would test our love and our patience. Soon the voyage date arrived and the car was filled with my owners’ luggage – had I told you my owner is married, to a short plump mostly mild-mannered woman a bit older than he? – including the fine blade that was my sworn companion, packed separately because I was too long to fit in the duffle bag. Anyway, as I sat in their hosts’ garage watching the packing proceedings, a moment came when the doors were closed and the car drove off – without me! I can’t tell you, unless you already know, how painful it is to be abandoned. All kinds of questions came to my mind. Wasn’t I good enough? Was there another snath I didn’t know about? Would I ever again experience the joy of swinging across a field as my blade sliced the fragrant grass?
I swooned in despair, but then jolted awake as my owner’s cousin rushed into the garage, grabbed me and took off in her car. I heard her tell her husband that she’d gotten a call regarding me, and the request that she take me to be rejoined to my folks. Oh bliss! I was wanted after all.
The next few hours were exciting. First I was placed in a hold next to the engine of a bus, along with many bags, and still insecure, I wondered if I would be found, but not to worry. I was taken with the rest of the luggage to a counter where my passage was discussed, because I was too long to go as regular baggage but too light and skinny to warrant the high fee for extra baggage. They decided to take me as a courtesy item! Can you believe that? courtesy! I felt that my life was charmed.
Well. Jumbled and tossed around with countless bags of all sorts and shapes, I ended up in a large compartment of an airplane that was bigger than anything I could have imagined. Just the roar of the engine would have scared the wits out of me if I weren’t already suffused with an overcharge of emotions. I confess that I fell asleep again, barely raised an eyebrow when they switched us to another plane, and didn’t wake up fully until I was being carried from the plane to a conveyor belt with all the other baggage. Hundreds of people stood around the edge of the belt, grabbing whatever bags they could get their hands on. It was bedlam! and it frightened me, but I kept my cool and trusted that my owner would show up sooner or later.
Ah, cruel betrayal. Soon I was left with just a few other bags, three of which I recognized as my mates, spinning round and round slowly on the belt as the area emptied out, an eerie silence descended and the lights were dimmed. In the penumbra a man, singing softly in a language I didn’t know, picked us all off the belt and took us to a deposit that they called ‘bagagem perdida,’ or lost baggage. Me, the two red duffles and the lime green one were bagagem perdida, lost in what I eventually learned was the international airport of Rio de Janeiro. Only the big orange suitcase was missing, and I prayed that it had managed to travel with the folks.
“They will find us,” the travel-experienced duffles assured me. After some effort I found the shape of my blade, resting comfortably in the bottom of the large red duffle.  So I tried to relax and learn what I could from adversity. I liked the singing, but not the yelling – day-in and day-out. Noisy people, these Brazilians.
One day they came and fetched the green duffle. Two workers. One of them argued for taking all of us. “They all came in together,” he said. “Look at the tags: all started out from Newark on July 31.” But they other was adamant, “I only have paperwork for the green bag. Different names on the tags.” Of course, I thought, my owners are a couple, and they have separate names. Woe are we, the red duffles and me.
A few days later they came and got us. I was so hopeful! But they took us back where we came from, all the way back to Newark. Now I lost all hope. How would they ever find us? Long story short, they finally got it straight, but not without another major bit of drama. We were fetched again, and routed back to Rio, then the two duffles went off and I was alone once more.
All I can say is that the resilient fibers of the ash tree that made me also sustained me throughout my ordeal. I felt an inner strength even as I thought all was lost, even my last companion, the red duffle carrying my blade. But two months after the original flight, they put me on a new flight, to Brasilia, and soon I was reunited with all that was dear to me – the hands of my owner and the silken steel of my blade.
Now in the peace of the farm where I live, on a high plateau in Central Brazil, I have time to reflect on the near miracle of a skinny stick, considered courtesy baggage, surviving amid the chaos of huge plane holds and huger airport deposits. I know there must be a guardian angel of snaths, and I am grateful.

Weeks later - the grass is growing again.