Dateline: 10 June 2006
It is turtleneck cold here in central New York State. And we continue to get lots of rain. My sandy, well-drained soil takes the rain nicely. The garlic is thriving. The rest of the garden is doing okay. A little sunshine and it’ll take off.
“It’s like a plague.” That’s what Robert said to me as we were driving home from Moravia today and I pointed out to him the full-grown maple trees without a single leaf on them. Caterpillars are eating them. Acres of hardwood forest are being stripped of foliage with maniacal efficiency. Portions of the wooded hillsides near our house are brown when they should be green. The devastation is in pockets. It has not reached our property. I am praying that it will not. Can a tree without a single leaf on it survive? I don’t know. It is a plague.
My dad called today and asked me to help spread some fertilizer on his lawn. His health is not the best and he doesn’t ask me to do much. Robert and I headed right up. A friend had loaned him a push spreader. The stuff he wanted me to spread was fertilizer and herbicide! The bag of little pellets proudly proclaimed that its contents would kill “200+ different weeds, including dandelion and clover.”
Personally, I don’t have anything against dandelions or clover or, for that matter, any other kind of plant in my lawn. And spreading a pellitized chemical killing agent on the earth is antithetical to everything I believe in. And I don’t think my dad has ever spread herbicide on his lawn before. But his friend told him it was the thing to do and I really didn’t want to make an issue of it with my dad.
So, I’m sorry to say, I spread 96 pounds of manmade plague on the lawn. I wasn’t happy about it but if I didn’t do it, he would, and he’s really not in any condition to do that right now.
On the brighter side..... I picked a big batch of spearmint and it is in the dehydrator now. Our house has a powerful minty-fresh smell. Marlene will use the dried herb in her soaps.
Marlene visited with our friend and organic market gardener, Rose Ryan, yesterday. Rose picked some stinging nettle and made a batch of nettle tea for Marlene and herself. What a coincidence. Just last week I ordered some nettle seed from Johnny’s. Rose spaded up a bunch of nettle for me and I planted it in a bed in the garden this evening.
I grew nettle a few years ago and dried it. It is very good for you. Once dried, the stinging action is no longer there. The nettle leaves can also be cooked like spinach.
I spent part of an afternoon last week scything the tall grass in my neighbor’s field. I scythe for fun and because there is something deep inside of me that yearns to cut grass with an ancient, razor sharp tool. It is very satisfying work.
I have a European-style scythe. I have had it for several years and have taken very good care of the blade. I’ve kept the blade sharp. I’ve never hit a rock. And I’ve never let anyone else use the tool.
Last week, James (my 11-year-old) used it. He hit a rock. He put a divot in the paper-thin, carefully-honed, razor-sharp blade. When I discovered the damage, I was upset. I could have really lost my cool. It was close—I was on the edge. But, thank God, I didn’t. I worked out my emotions with myself before I spoke to James about it. I told him I was glad that he wanted to use the scythe (which I was) but that it is a delicate instrument and the sharp blade is fragile and if the tool is not used properly, it can get damaged. I told him I did not think he was old enough to use my scythe properly. I told him that I wanted him to use the older, American-style scythe that I bought years ago (the one that I don’t care about any more because the European style is so much more superior). He knew I was upset, even if I didn’t loose my cool. Marlene was there. She told me later that I handled it well. There have been times, in years gone by, when I did not handle such things well. And my children suffered as a result.
So I got on the internet that night and bought a peening hammer and an anvil made for sharpening and repairing scythe edges. They came in the mail today. I watched a man peen a scythe blade at the Common Ground Country Fair in Maine two years ago. I’m pretty sure I can do it too, now that I have the right tools.
www.scythesupply.com has everything you need to get into scything.
It appears that several women are buying my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian, to give their husbands and fathers for Father’s Day. What a great idea!