Scythe Supply Helps Restore a Tradition
by Edward French
“There was never a sound beside the wood but one, And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground," the poet Robert Frost observed in his poem "Mowing." The quiet whispering, the ease of motion, the rhythm in which one forgets worldly cares and loses oneself in the repetitive movements are all attractions of the tool with the long, curving blade used for mowing grass or clearing land of bushes. A company in Perry, Scythe Supply, has been helping the scythe make a comeback, selling a European-style scythe that is light, thin and strong.
The company was begun in 2001 by the late Elliot Fishbein and is now carried on by his partner, Carol Bryan. Fishbein, who had a love of hand tools, always had mowed using an old American scythe with an S-shaped handle, but after he began doing more vegetable farming when he and Bryan moved from Eastport to Perry, he heard about a company in Tennessee that sold the European-style scythe. Fishbein had been a sign-maker, first carving and then painting them and then using computer-generated lettering for boats and race cars. But when he saw a scythe business for sale on eBay, he decided he would start a new own business and learned how to make scythes and how to develop a website for Scythe Supply. "The most intriguing thing about him was the world was anew," Bryan recalls. In an article he wrote for Mother Earth News, Fishbein enthusiastically observed, "The scythe is simply the most efficient and graceful tool for mowing."
"He had a good time doing it. I couldn't help being affected by it," she remembers. "I watched him become so enthralled and excited."
After Fishbein was killed in a car accident in 2002, Bryan says that, because the business was so important to him, "Initially I wanted to continue it because it was helping to keep Elliot alive." Now Bryan observes, "We're stewards of this. It has a life of its own. The energy of this is going on, whether I want it to or not."
The small company sells scythes with three types of blades: grass, ditch and bush, which can cut through small saplings. The blades are obtained from an Austrian company that is nearly 500 years old, and the white ash for the handles, or snaths, is obtained from Peavey Manufacturing in Eddington, with Holden Cabinet and Millwork in East Holden milling them. Kingfield Wood Products makes the grips for the handles. ? At Bryan's Shore Road Farm, the snaths are customized, with customers providing measurements for height, hip to ground and cubit, or the tip of their middle finger to the back of their elbow. The measurements determine the length of the snath and the placement of the grips. "The snath is truly made in Maine," Bryan points out. "It's Maine grown, Maine made and Maine finished."
While Bryan and Richard Scott of Pembroke customize and make the finished snaths, Diane Cashore of Robbinston provides quality control for Scythe Supply's imports, including the sharpening equipment from the Czech Republic. Rafi Hopkins of Eastport is the computer and website consultant for the company. About 70% of their orders come through their website, www.ScytheSupply.com, and about 80% of their customers are first-time users. To help them learn how to mow, they encourage customers to purchase a package of blade, snath, sharpening equipment and The Scythe Book. Scythe Supply ships orders to people throughout the U.S. and Canada and as far as Australia and New Zealand.
Unlike noisy, heavy weed whackers that break down, the scythe is quiet and efficient, Bryan points out. In mowing contests between weed whackers and scythes, the scythe usually wins. It also helps in breaking away from this culture's petroleum dependency. "’It runs on breakfast’ - that's a Richard saying," Bryan says, referring to Scott's love for the tool. And she notes that people who have started mowing with a scythe say, "I can hear the birds sing now."
Bryan says that "a good core of people" in the area now enjoy mowing, as the tradition is passed from generation to generation. She mentions in particular young Brennin and Jade Consalvi of Perry, who often help her.
Scott was first introduced to using a scythe by the elder Bill Follis, who, when he was 80, showed the young Eastport teenager how to mow. But Scott didn't pick it up again for 20 years, when he began mowing hay for dairy goats he had on a small farm in East Livermore. After he moved back to the Quoddy area in 1998, Scott found out about Fishbein's interest in scythes, and he began working with Scythe Supply in 2001.
"It's amazing you can accomplish so much with so little effort," he observes. "The efficiency of it is amazing."
"There's a rhythm to it, and once you get into that rhythm you can very easily lose yourself in the mowing," says Scott, who will sometimes mow for six or eight hours at a time. "It almost becomes a metaphysical experience. It gets right into your soul." He pauses. "It touches something in you."
The poet Frost evidently knew that meditative feeling of working in the fields. His poem "Mowing" ends with the lines: "The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows. My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make."
Scythe Supply Helps Restore a Tradition by Edward French originally appeared in the newspaper: THE QUODDY TIDES 123 Water St, PO Box 213, Eastport, Maine 04631, Tel. (207) 853-4806 http://www.quoddytides.com • Article copyright: THE QUODDY TIDES, 2008