Living in a clearing in the woods for 12 years gave me an enormous appreciation for nature’s tenacity. If I skipped even one year of keeping down woody scrub, small trees, rough grasses, and greenbrier as tough as nylon cord, they came creeping back into my two-acre meadow-the vanguard of a wholesale takeover that would soon return the meadow to oak, poplar, beech, hornbeam, and black birch forest.
At first, I used a scythe-or rather, it used me. After whaling away at the first half-acre of orchard grass and year-old trees, I had to quit from exhaustion. Eventually, my neighbor, a farmer in his late 60s, saw me clearing the edges of my quarter-mile driveway, swinging my scythe in long, roundhouse arcs. He laughed at me, and then gave me a succinct lesson in scything. He stood squared up to the grass and weeds, holding the snath at an angle that positioned the scythe blade parallel to the ground, tilted slightly downward toward the direction of the stroke, and just a few inches off the ground. With abdominal muscles tight, he swung the scythe just a foot or so at a time in short, jerky little strokes directly in front of him, taking baby steps forward as he worked. Every couple of minutes he stopped, took the sharpening stone out of the back pocket of his overalls, and swiped it across the blade several times. "Don’t work if it ain’t sharp," he said, and then resumed scything. "Do it this way and you can scythe all day."
I did learn to scythe that way, but I sure didn’t want to do it all day. I learned that there are other easier and more efficient tools for the job of clearing the edges of a property and for rough work, such as keeping down the scrubby growth along a meadow or stream bank, or keeping a meandering path clear through a wooded area. At first I tried to use my power lawn mower to clear out the undergrowth where large shrubs bordered a densely wooded part of the property, but stones lurked among the broad-leaved weeds and grasse