The past couple of days we have been making hay while the Sun shines, literally. There are several acres of hillsides too steep to mow with the sickle bar cutter, so my 17 year old son and I cut them with scythes and then rake the cut grass into windrows where it dries. These have to be flipped at least three times before we pick them up and make haycocks for the cattle. Scything is about 70% cutting and 30% honing and peening the blade so it involves extreme physicality and focused precision work with hammer, anvil and whetstone. Add to it the delicate rake work of tossing the cut grass into windrows on slopes that pitch like a 7:12 roofline and you start to get the picture.
Of all the things that we do it is the most physically draining, the most demanding in terms of straight through work- from just after the dew dries in the morning until we finally break for supper at 8:30 or so. We talk to one another off and on about books, about history, about family about his future. He is leaving in a week to backpack his way through Europe, from Barcelona to Geneva and we will miss him, but until then he works beside me harder than 90% of most adult males in our culture.
The group he is going with are predominantly the sons and daughters of the well to do. Jokingly I told him that when they sit around the alpine huts in the evening watching the last light fade from the snow covered slopes of Mont Blanc and they are gossiping about their early admission to Yale or Harvard he tell them about how he paid his way on the trip by felling oaks and then splitting them into fence rails, or digging a well by hand, or scything the steep hillsides of his family farm to make hay for his flocks and herds for the Winter ahead.
“You know they won’t believe it.” he says.
“But you’ll know it’s true.” I reply.
And this is followed by the soft snicking sound of blade against stem, in cadence, for quite some time.
The fact that so many have surrendered their lives to indolence and sloth says a great deal about the culture we inhabit. That their children follow in their footsteps is to be expected because that is the example that they set and it is all that they will likely ever know. It is not an excuse, however for those who understand their responsibility as parents, who believe in a better future for their own children, who plan further ahead than their next EBT transfer from Uncle Sugar.
After we had finished last night we took a walk into the south pasture where the cattle were grazing and studied the grasses, talked about the nitrogen benefits of the various clovers and vetches, and about his plans for building a couple of hobbity cottages along the bouldered hillsides where the stately maples grew in profusion. He sees the farm as a destination for moneyed urban types with an itch to visit the countryside for a long weekend, where they can wake up in the morning to the sound of ewes bleating to their lambs, and eat fresh eggs with yolks the color of tangerines. I listen to him talk about his love for this piece of property, about the light falling in the forest never penetrates deep enough to shake off the blue darkness inside, and even after his day how much he enjoys working beside me.
Next week when he boards his flight, by himself with nothing but his backpack and the clothes he is wearing, I will be watching him go with a small degree of sadness, but with such a deep well of pride in him that it will temper anything else. He is confident well beyond his years, bright and funny and completely fearless of the future unlike so many of his contemporaries, and he has earned his trip from the sweat of his brow, something that means more to him than he understands right now. But one day he will and it will be a foundation upon which he will build his own future.
I feel bad for the teenagers that miss this, but my son is not one of them, and he makes his parents very proud.