Whispering Scythe

Winslow Homer’s The Veteran in a New Field

To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows…

The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.
~Robert Frost in “Mowing”

I grew up watching my father scythe our hay in our field because he had no mower for his tractor.  He enjoyed physical labor in the fields and woods–his other favorite hand tool was a brush cutter that he’d take to blackberry bushes.   He would head out to the field with the scythe over this shoulder, grim reaper style.  Once he was standing on the edge of the grass needing to be mowed, he would then lower the scythe, curved blade to the ground, turn slightly, positioning his hands on the two handles just so, raise the scythe up past his shoulders, and then in a full body twist almost like a golf swing, he’d bring the blade down.   It would follow a smooth arc through the base of the standing grass, laying clumps flat in a tidy pile in a row alongside the 2 inch stubble left behind. It was a swift, silky muscle movement, a thing of beauty.

This work was a source of his satisfaction and “sweetest dream.”  I know now what he must have felt–there is a contentment found in sweaty work showing visible results.   I understand that “earnest love” that drives us to work, and tangibly leaves the evidence of our labors behind.

Harvest work is not for sissies.   I learned that watching my father’s continual sweep across the field and hearing his whispering scythe.

I wish I too could work with a whisper.

Mowing the Orchard

The rain eases long enough
to allow blades of grass to stand back up
expectant, refreshed yet unsuspecting,
primed for the mower’s cutting swath.

Swollen clusters of pink tinged apple blossoms
sway in response to the mower’s pass,
buds bulge on ancient branches weighted in promise of fruit
stroked by the hum of honeybees’ tickling legs and tongues.

Bowed low beneath the clustered blooms,  yet scratched by snagging branches
that shower from a hidden raindrop reservoir
held in the clasp of blushing petal cups–
my wounds anointed in trickles of perfumed crimson.

orchard photos by Lea Gibson (“after the rain”)