First Session: People of the Grass
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What: 6-Week Traditional Hand-Mowing Intensive: Laboring toward Learning
When: Sunday Mornings 6-9am, May 16 – June 20th
Tuition: Tuition is offered as a Gift. As a graduate, you will be invited to join us for an historic haymaking effort in June – to mow the eight acres of meadow that surround the new Cow Barn.
Who: We have ordered a small fleet of traditional scythes – hand-forged Austrian blades attached to steam-bent Ash handles. We have 18 spots available. Would you like to have one of these exquisite tools placed in your hands this Spring? Do you long to move in a common rhythm with the Life that unfolds and unfurls around you? Have you ever wondered what might happen if we stopped hurtling forward long enough to turn around and inquire as to how things came to be as they are?
Instructors: We’ve gathered a remarkable group of Teachers from the local community for this first class of the Scythe School. Teaching Topics will range from Songs to Steel to Snaths to Sore Shoulders.
Why: Why on earth would any modern person mow grass by hand – swinging a steel blade back and forth for hours – when they could use a Weed Wacker, Lawnmowers, or a Tractor instead? A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to travel by foot through remote mountain villages in the Austrian and Italian Alps where – as a result of sheer endurance and extreme physical isolation – some of the Old Ways survive to this day. The life there still revolves around Grass and Cows. In early summer, they walk their cows up to graze the herbal alpine pastures – many miles from the village – where their milk is preserved as large wheels of alpine cheese that will sustain the villagers through the winter. Come fall, adorned with flower headdresses, the Cows make the long walk down to the village where their return elicits great celebration. It was the first week of September when I arrived, and the weather was to be sunny and warm all week. In the villages everyone joined in the haymaking effort – ages four to ninety four. While some of the younger generation now mow with machines, their parents and grandparents mow by hand alongside them, their scythes moving as extensions of their bodies. They labor together to fill their barns with hay over the course of the summer in order to sustain their beloved, hardworking cows upon their return. Labor in return for labor.
We’ve wondered if it might not be that different for us moderns after all – if our willingness to learn to labor together will ultimately determine whether or not Life will be sustained. Learning to work with a scythe is hard, humbling and heartbreakingly beautiful work.
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Why on earth would we pour our resources into ordering a fleet of scythes and devote considerable time to trying to craft something worthy of the word ‘School’ and not charge a dime to those who choose – despite their better judgement – to subject themselves to this fledgling endeavor? The impetus for the School emerges from our grief and our longing.
Perhaps you have heard news of the dire changes that appear to be mounting in the abstract realm commonly referred to as ‘the environment’ – species extinction, climate change, desertification, the loss of topsoil, and so on. Perhaps you have also heard that many researchers now see loneliness as the leading cause of physical disease in the human population. Could there be a connection between these two grievous trajectories – these unintended consequences of modernity – that continue to gather momentum despite all of our sincere efforts toward amelioration? Should you choose to have a scythe placed in your outstretched hands this Spring, you should know in advance that we do not propose the scythe as a solution to any of the mayhem that gathers in our midst. We have wondered, instead, whether gathering ourselves towards this endangered craft – and toward one another – might offer an opportunity to practice some long-abandoned skills of homemaking. We have wondered how we might allow ourselves to be gathered towards beauty. We have this term ‘ecological limits,’ which may serve to haunt our dreams or whisper from our left shoulder while we stand at the grocery store shelf or decide whether or not to bike to work. The root of the word ‘ecology’ is the Greek word oikos, meaning house. To be a member of a household is to be subjected to limits. What happens to us and to the world when we abandon limits and pursue freedom instead? How could free people – no longer bound to the responsibilities entailed by membership in a household of place – bring themselves into the presence of limits as they long for something, somewhere that feels like home? Martin Shaw, an English storyteller, writes in his book Scatterlings:
So what happens if we try and root? Rather ironically, the latest addition to hip-speak is a desire to be indigenous. No work history required. Well, indigenous is a complicated word....I suggest a re-tuning of intention, a slightly more sober directive: to be ‘of’ a place. To labour under a related indebtedness to a stretch of Earth that you have not claimed, but has claimed you.
To be of is to hunker down as a servant to the ruminations of the specific valley, little gritty vegetable patch, or swampy acre of abandoned field that has laid its breath on the back of your neck….To be of means to listen. To commit to being around, to a robust pragmatism as to what this wider murmuring may require of you. It’s participation, not as a conqueror, not in the spirit of devouring, but of relatedness. I think this takes a great deal of practice...To be of means to be in. To have traded endless possibility for something specific. That over the slow recess of time you become that part of the land that temporarily abides in human form.
Another teacher of mine, Stephen Jenkinson, describes our capacity for home as a woven thing, like a cloth. The warp threads would be the particulars of place – terrain, weather patterns, the plants and animals. The weft thread is spun from our memory, with which we weave the cloth we wrap around ourselves for shelter.
The School, in my most clear moments of imagining, looks like a six-week practice of courtship. A courtship to a mostly-forgotten tool and the beautiful dance that the tool invites. A courtship to memory and to place – to the very possibility of being at home.
There will be the scythe itself – in all of its physical, tangible and practical beauty – as one of the principal teachers, offering lessons in humility and memory and limits. There will be ideas, offered as readings or listenings, to accompany our hours in the field – as contemplative companions. There will be an invitation to practice listening as one of the foundational skills of homemaking. There will be songs to learn and sing together, as we imagine how we might add our collective voice to the raucous conversation already underway in the fields where we will gather. There will be real work to do together that will contribute to feeding and sustaining the real animals – the Sheep and Cows – whose bodies are built from Grass and die by our hands to sustain the lives of real human people, including all of those who come to pick up Soup from the Gift Stand.
Thank you for reading. It is an honor to imagine that some of you might join us in this work. Please don't hesitate to reach out with questions.