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They love to get into the swing with scythes

Weed whackers get sneers here

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COOKS CREEK -- It's all in the hip action, says scything guru Angela Temple.

Swing your scythe low, blade up, and twist. "You're using your whole body," says Temple, sounding like a fitness instructor.

"I've always been active. And if it has a built-in workout, all the better," she said while cutting some tall grasses.

Temple uses the largely forgotten implement to cut hay to feed her horses and sheep on her 20-acre lot. She's not alone. People in the RM of Springfield, where many live on five- to 20-acre lots and keep horses and a bevy of other critters, are laying down their motorized weed whackers for the serenity of scything.

Count Joanne Noga among the converts. "We used to mow it all (five acres), and then I killed a meadowlark nest and I said, 'I'll never do that again.' "

So she leaves the meadowlarks a large patch of long pasture grass in her front yard that she trims with a scythe only. "The cats like to catch mice in there, too," she said.

Temple owns two vintage scythes: one she found at an estate auction in Selkirk, and one at antique store, Ol' Lamplighter, in Dugald. She gets dreamy just talking about her scythes, admiring how the oil and sweat from the previous owner's hands have turned the wooden handles ivory-smooth.

"Even to see it just hanging up on the wall is a nice feeling," said Temple, who admits to a weakness for nostalgia. "I dress up in pioneer clothing every chance I get," she said, and was in costume at the recent Cooks Creek Medieval Festival.

The scythe gets a raw deal from being associated with death as the Grim Reaper's beloved instrument. The great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy, was perhaps the most eloquent proponent of the scythe. Despite being a rich landowner, Tolstoy would join peasants every harvest to scythe hay and small grains. He wrote in the novel Anna Karenina of the intoxicating "oblivion" one feels while scything. He describes the sound of the blade "swishing through the grass" and peasant women singing as they scythed in rows down the field.

The website, scytherspace.wordpress.com, is more modern in its description, comparing scything to "non-impact exercise, like tai-chi."

Cornelia Seeholzer, 17, and her grandfather, Hans Alder, both originally from Switzerland, are avid scythers. When Cornelia saw her grandfather, who farms near Anola, using a scythe, she wanted one and found one online.

Her family resides on a five-acre lot south of Cooks Creek. She scythes to cut feed for her nine goats, 11 chickens and 37 rabbits. She goes where a mower can't on her five-acre yard and in ditches. Alder is so skilled he can get a field of high grass down to lawnmower-cut height.

The scythe blade needs regular sharpening. Alder has a small instrument like one of those V-shaped devices for sharpening a filleting knife, or he uses a whetstone that fits into a special wooden holster from Switzerland that also holds a bit of water. He runs the damp whetstone at angles along the scythe blade, like a barber with a strop.

Like all scythers, Cornelia begins to sneer when asked why she doesn't use a weed whacker. Grasses in places such as ditches are so thick, a scythe is simply more efficient, she said.

"When I look at people using a weed whacker, I just think, 'Get a scythe!' "

Temple agrees consumers are being sold a bill of goods with motorized cutters. The weed-whacker is "dangerous because you're always turning it upside down to figure out what's wrong," and then it goes off, said Temple, a retired army warrant officer, speaking only partly in jest.

Another advantage of the scythe is "you can scythe at 10 at night and your neighbours don't care," said Temple, who writes for the Clipper Weekly (no pun intended) in eastern Manitoba.

Big-box hardware stores Rona and Home Depot don't carry scythes, but they are available at Pollock's Hardware on Main Street and Lee Valley Tools.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 4, 2012 A8

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