"The hay will be spoiled," he said.
from Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, Chapter 4.
The weather does not always co-operate on the day of a scythe workshop. Farmers don't plan their haymaking days by exact calendar dates, but scythers traveling long distances to get together for a scythe workshop, have to. So I have the above quote from Anna Karenina handy, in the event a scythe workshop date occurs on a rainy day. I paraphrase it as, "Mow when it rains, rake when it shines."
Scythe Fest 2013 took place in the midst of the idyllic scenery of Trempealeau County, in central Wisconsin. The weather forecast had predicted sun, so many of us hadn't even brought raingear. Unfortunately it rained, and we got soaked pretty good at times. The event was graciously hosted by St. Isidore's Mead, an organic micro-dairy that does intensive grazing with mini-Jerseys (which have got to be the cutest breed of cows of all time!), while establishing tree-crop hedgerows. The event was also filmed for the video segments on their website, Around the Farm Table, which has recently been picked up as a series for Wisconsin Public TV. All three people at St. Isidore's Mead are scythers themselves, and are happy to promote the utility and beauty of mowing with a scythe. Wisconsin Public TV viewers will be treated to views of the rolling lush green hills of their farm, mixed with the timeless sights and sounds of a dozen scythers mowing hay with scythes, and honing their edges. and all the while chatting, and the birds are singing and the cows are mooing in the background. At one point, a pair of Sandhill cranes flew by. What was missing? Machine noise! I got the thrill of sharing my enthusiasm for the Austrian scythe, with a group of people that were eager to learn, while being intermittently put on the spot by a very creative film crew.
After we were pretty soaked through and getting cold, we decided that maybe it's better to learn how to peen a scythe blade under a barn roof when it rains, mow when it's cool & cloudy, and then rake when it shines. So we headed to an out-building, where a gorgeous yurt frame was under construction. I wondered if it would have a pyramid effect on the scythe edges (haha). I demonstrated the art of peening a scythe blade, while seated in the center of the yurt and answered questions. During a couple of breaks in the rain, we went back out to the field and mowed some more grass. Inga Witscher brought us some refreshing switchel, the haymaker's punch, out in the field, and later she called us in for some homemade rhubarb pie.
(BTW, I think switschel was the preferred haymakers drink, because apple cider vinegar & ginger are good for hay fever, molasses and honey have electrolytes, and honey gives you energy and helps your cells stay more hydrated.)
All photos above by Gail A. Zimmerman.
Day 2: "Rake when it shines."
On Day 2, the sun came out and started to rapidly dry out the hay. We flipped over the windrows to expose the rainwet green grass underneath to the sun. Any heavy clumps of wet grass were spread out to dry faster. Once all the hay was flipped and drying, it was time to take a break in the shade. Later on, some major reinforcements arrived, and we quickly got all the windrows turned and tedded up, to be light and airy, so that the wind could do more of the drying and there would be less bleaching by the sun. Many hands make light work. By mid-afternoon, we were already able to start stacking hay on the drying racks to finish curing.
I am always amazed how much loose hay it takes to make a haystack. It took quite a while to build up the emeshed, horizontal layers of the stack. Inga had to leave before we were finished, because she had to milk her cows. It's the rhythm of the farm. We continued on, and by late afternoon we had a beautifully formed stack about 8 ft high. It looked like it had materialized right out of one of Monet's haystack paintings. It took almost half the hay to make it. We stood back and admired it like a work of art. Making hay with a scythe has an amazing sense of timelessness to it. Humans have been making hay this way for such a long time. A very peaceful and satisfying day. Now for some of Inga's lentil soup and some local micro-brewery beer. Maybe we can finish the next haystack by the light of the fireflies.
I would like to thank all the people that helped make this event such a success! It has been a very soul-healing experience for me. I deeply appreciate the hosts, and the helpers, the intern, the film crew, my photographer, and all the workshop participants, especially the ones that traveled such long distances. This was my third haymaking event that I have taught. All three of them got rained on, and didn't go quite as planned, but never-the-less were very educational and enriching. I hope everyone will have fond memories of your experience. I look forward to seeing where the new connections that I made here will lead. - Botan Anderson
The "Around The Farm Table" episode featuring our Scythe Fest, can be seen at http://video.wpt.org/video/2365110670/