Short Stories Reflections of a Farm Teen The Scyther

Reflections of a Farm Teen

by Shay B. Malone, McGrath, AK

Life on a farm. What a world, a little kingdom apart and complete from the rest of the universe.

On it is joy and pain. Hard work and rest. Peace, chaos, beauty and absurdity. The expected and the unexpected, and of course, generous portions of humor.

I have been thinking about the people of my generation, who didn’t have the honor of being “raised with the animals!”

One such young person told me, “You have a different perspective on things because you were raised with nature!” How interesting. I suppose my siblings and I do, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

The city dwellers miss the intense joy of seeing the most beautiful, perfectly formed goat kid being born into the world, to see the tiny creature struggle to live and to see it take its’ first steps. No matter that it is 3 a.m. when the goat decides to kid and its rather chilly outside. It is still so very special and the early hour lends a certain charm. Yes, life on a farm is hard work, but I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up any other way.

No one but a farmer gets to scratch behind the ears of a pig while it grunts in pleasure, it’s piggy eyes closed in contentment. No one but a farmer has ever leaned over the pig pen fence to pour a wet bucket of slops into the trough and have the animal stick its head directly underneath the flood of milk and scraps and suddenly shake his ears causing the face, chest and arms of the benefactor to receive a share.

Only those who live on a farm can reach into a nest and pick up a newly laid egg, still warm from the hen and receive a moist ball of chicken doo on one’s back from the chicken who seemed to have waited for just the right moment. On a farm, the beauty and humor of life is bound up together. Let’s not even think about the chicken chasing experiences we’ve had. I can picture it now. The chicken’s skinny scrawny legs pumping up and down, neck stretched out, the person running behind it, while the chicken makes on-a-dime turns, and then putting on that fateful burst of speed just when the hopeless farmer makes a desperate clutch at the bird and falling overbalanced on his or her face, sees the chicken whiz around the corner and out of sight. Chasing a chicken is exceedingly humbling and, if one is lucky enough to catch the bird it feels as if you’ve won the Olympic gold medal. I have always wondered why people don’t hold chicken races. They can sure run.

Yes, on a farm there is sorrow and pain too. The death of an old much loved animal, the loss of an important crop and the passing of time, which means some animals must become food. But this also teaches a lesson and brings fullness to life. Those who have not lived on a farm miss so much. The changing seasons, planting and harvesting of crops, in it all is beauty unfathomable.

They have never seen the sun rising in glory over the farmstead, golden light reflecting off the buildings or a lovely sunset bringing an end to a day filled with working the land.

They have never smelled the new mown hay, the fresh scent of the earth after a much-needed rain, or felt their hearts thrill at the sight of the goats and sheep grazing the lush fields.

My heart is filled with pity and sadness for those who have not seen nor understand all this.

Only a farmer truly knows the soil that is alive and brings forth the green plant from the tiny seed, in itself a miracle unspeakable. The farmer cares for the crops that grow in the black earth, that will feed people, some of whom may look down on the tenders of the soil as a dirty and unintelligent group. Someday they will know the truth about it, and believe that what Thomas Jefferson wrote about farmers being the salt of the earth is true.

For now, I will accept the beauty of the land, help others to know it, enjoy the many humorous animal happenings, and have my hands in the good Alaskan dirt all summer.

The Scyther

by Heather Daniels of Yorkville, IL

“I have the best idea for the pasture!” My father spoke animatedly, pushing back his plate and reaching for his glass. I caught my sister’s eye and raised my eyebrows significantly. Last time he had a “best idea” he drafted us kids to join him in shoveling horse manure over seven acres of scrubby pasture. We had not gotten far on the Herculean task before he gave it up, to our grateful relief. Now, however, he truly took us by surprise. “We’ll buy several scythes, and cut hay by hand. That will save us the price of a tractor!” Nine pairs of eyes stared at him in blank astonishment. Scythes? Like they used in Laura Ingalls? But one week later they arrived – five sharp, gleaming scythes. In the days that followed we slowly learned the rudiments of scything. But probably you have never stood knee deep in dew-laden grass, listening to the metallic rasping as you sharpen your blade. Perhaps you have never watched the swaths of wet hay falling under the sweep of your scythe. Maybe you have never stood in the quiet dusk, weary yet triumphant; for our fast paced world has no time for the rhythm of scything. So follow my father in your imagination, as my brothers and sisters and I have done in fact.

It is very early. The sun is just peeking its head over the horizon and the fluffy clouds are glowing a pale pink. The birds are stirring overhead, stretching their wings and cooing softly to their nestlings. A sleepy rabbit hops slowly across the path and disappears into the tall grass. In the middle of the field a solitary figure stands, drinking in the fresh morning air. He holds a scythe over his right shoulder, and in his left hand is a whetstone, resting in a yellow cone. He stands motionless, watching as the golden orb of the sun shoots up above the horizon, flooding the sleepy hills with light. Dewdrops glitter on a spider’s web. A chorus of birds breaks into full song – a hymn to the morning. Shaking himself, he draws the whetstone from its case. A drop of water falls from it, sparking like a tiny jewel that vanishes when it touches the ground. He lays the stone against the blade and draws it down, quickly yet firmly. Again and again he draws it across the blade, pausing now and then to run his thumb over the blade edge, testing its sharpness. Satisfied at last, he lays the stone in its case at the foot of a young elm. Taking firm hold of the smooth wooden handles he swings the scythe in an arc before him. A pile of wet grass falls to one side as he steps forward to deliver another sweeping stroke. Slowly, one step at a time, he moves down the pasture. Behind him lies a neat row of shorn grass, before him a waving expanse waiting to be cut. On and on he goes, while Phoebus climbs ever higher in the sky.

The morning has passed. The sun is at its zenith. Still the Scyther can be seen, toiling with bowed head in the burning noontide heat. Sweat runs down his face. The enchantment of the morning has vanished. He can think only of swinging his scythe yet again through the drying grasses. Grasshoppers cling to the slender stems, every stroke of the blade sending them flying into his face. The air is filled with their rasping. A vulture circles slowly over head, but all else is still. Even the birds are silent in the dry summer heat.

The afternoon has crawled past slowly, and evening has finally come. The sun has set, leaving the sky aflame with dull red, burnt orange, and deep purple. A rising star hangs low in the east. The grasshoppers have silenced their infernal noise; their more melodious cousins the crickets taking their place. An owl hoots solemnly, and a whippoorwill begins to sing. A rabbit pokes its furry head out of its burrow and looks around with bright eyes. A solitary figure stands in a newly cut field. Slowly he wipes the bit of grass off his blade, and greases it with an oily cloth before starting down the path to where his home awaits him. The color has faded from the west, and stars shine luminous from the sky above. A sliver of a new moon rises slowly in the east. The Scyther is weary, but victorious; a hard day’s work well done.

My brothers and sisters and I have experienced with my father this age-old rhythm of scything, from the fresh morning to the scorching afternoon, and on to the restful evening. This rhythm will beat on in our hearts, whatever the changing years may bring.