I stumbled across a charming set of posts from Scythecymru.wordpress.com, charting their hand haymaking process during this glorious July – from mowing with scythes, rowing up, picking up and stacking in racks – some with ‘hats’ on.

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The Introductory Scythe course having a first go at scything on Cae Mari Jones
Photos from the Scthe Cymru blog

This has included a ‘social mowing’ day when the organisers were joined by others in the community keen to learn a new/old skill and to lend a hand.

This reminds me of some passages from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina –where Levin, the young aristocratic master, feels the need to join the peasants mowing, and finds the experience spiritually uplifting…

The old man, holding himself erect, went in front, moving with long, regular strides, his feet turned out and swinging his scythe as precisely and evenly, and apparently as effortlessly, as a man swings his arms in walking. As if it were child’s play, he laid the grass in a high, level ridge. It seemed as if the sharp blade swished of its own accord through the juicy grass…

… In the very heat of the day the mowing did not seem such hard work. The perspiration with which Levin was drenched cooled him, while the sun, that burned his back, his head, and his arms, bare to the elbow, gave a vigour and a dogged energy to his labour; and more and more often now came those moments of oblivion, when it was possible not to think of what one was doing. The scythe cut itself. Those were happy moments. Still more delightful were the moments when they reached the river at the end of the rows and the old man would run his scythe with a thick knot of wet grass, rinse the steel blade in the fresh water of the stream, ladle out a little in a tin dipper, and offer Levin a drink…

… The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he experienced those moments of oblivion when it was not his arms which swung the scythe but the scythe seemed to mow itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, as though by magic, without a thought being given to it, the work did itself regularly and carefully. These were the most blessed moments…

… And young and old mowed away, as if they were racing each other. Yet however fast they worked, they did not spoil the grass and the swaths fell as neatly and exactly as before. The little patch left in the corner was whisked off in five minutes…

… The sun was already sinking into the trees when they entered the woody little ravine of Mashkin hill, their dippers rattling as they walked. The grass in the middle of the hollow was waist high, tender, soft, and feathery, speckled here and there among the trees with wild pansies.

After a brief consultation – whether they should take the rows lengthwise or diagonally – Prohor Yermilin, also a renowned mower, a huge, black-haired peasant, went on ahead. He went up to the top, turned back again and started mowing, and they all proceeded to fall into line behind him, going downhill through the hollow and uphill right up to the edge of the trees…

… The grass cut with a juicy sound and fell in high fragrant rows. On the short rows the mowers bunched together, their tin dippers rattling, their scythes ringing when they touched, the whetstones whistling upon the blades, and their good-humoured voices resounding as they urged each other on…

Racks in Cae Mari Jones, some with canvas “hats” tied on

Racks in Cae Mari Jones, some with canvas “hats” tied on.
Photos from the Scythe Cymru blog

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