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The Mower’s Artwork

With a little experience, a scythe can become the mower’s “paintbrush” – a tool for creating designs as small as a backyard flower garden or as large as a mountainside meadow. They may be purely decorative or meant to convey an idea.The message that all the signs in this section carry is the result of recreation and “useful labour” combined — because we always have fun mowing and the designs are, after all, eventually eaten up as hay by our animals. Alternately, the animal feed can be thought of as the fringe benefit received in the process of expressing one’s sentiments and convictions.

These four photos represent the seasonal progression to date of a relatively small sign we have maintained since joining, in May, the climate change-related action initiated by Bill McKibben and the rest of the 350.org team. (For an explanation of the concept see http://www.350.org/about/blogs/more-350-art-scythe) We also encourage you to read his personal letter to the international community of scythe users and his most recent report on global 350 solidarity.

Between the naturally changing effect of the pasture’s flora and what touch can be added — by alternately cutting either the design itself or the area surrounding it — considerable aesthetic variations can be achieved. For instance, the lighter shade inside the design in the bottom shot is provided by the cut grass drying in the sun waiting to be made into hay. And each time the animals have had http://queerslo.com/events/ their turn in the field (part of our rotational grazing territory) we can re-design the leftovers.

For instance, after Joanna Dafoe, the Canadian 350 coordinator, explained that our government is one of the prime examples of a “superpower” which evidently acts as if it can not appreciate the urgency of the climate change issue (read more) — the design’s face in the bottom changed from a smile into a frown, with the exclamation mark becoming a question mark…

For more photos, process description and hints on how caretakers of livestock can utilize the scythe-made signs at each stage — as hay and/or pasture, clickhere.

For those who may like to play around with sign- and hand-haymaking more than is perhaps necessary, here is our method:

Step 1.
We draw the outline of the available space on graph paper and place the intended logo/design inside it. (This tells us how large the letters/symbols can be and where best to place them within the area.)

Step 2.
We step off the distances, place a few stakes (though not too many) and sometimes strings, to help guide the initial going over with the scythe. It is much easier to do this work in early spring before the grass even begins to grow — or, alternately, after the area has already been mowed once (and the grass removed as hay or silage) — simply because it is much easier to see where you are going as you mow when the grass is 4″-12″ tall than in a three foot high stand. Starting (and getting oriented) in tall grass inevitably results in some trampling of the surrounding surface (which will consequently be more difficult to cut later).

Except for our very first (“Scything Makes Sense”), we prepared the signs before the season’s growth began by outlining the design lightly with partially composted manure. (Below is the view of the first day of making the Medicine Wheel — shot from a nearby tree.) This provides an effective visual guide for the first session of cutting (when the grass is about 6″ high). Later — due to the added fertility and thereby stimulated growth- the sign will also “help to create itself”. As an example, the local organizers of the First International Scythe Symposium and Festival in Austria did just this; they fed the grass outlining the design some nitrogen before growth began. They did not find time for my suggested follow-up steps, but by early July the outline of the logo — because it was on a steep mountainside — could be seen from a distance. Given the fact that this was a scythe event, the process, in a way, was a fake. Nevertheless, it accomplished something, and perhaps for some 350 concept enthusiasts, this may be sufficient substitute for hand mowing. Not for me though — and thus I continue with outlining the “proper” process.

The grass cut during the first mowing, because it is still so short and young, can be left right there (instead of being removed). But it should be spread evenly rather than left in a windrow because it will then more quickly settle down and not interfere with the second mowing.

By the second trip over, all stakes/strings have been removed since the younger, greener growth already defines the pattern. Many more people could effectively help at this stage than during the first one. For us on the farm, this cut is an actual hay making step — everything mown is dried and stored away as animal feed.

Step 3.
The third stage is the one when most people can get involved. We time it so that the previously mown parts (that is, the design itself) have re-grown to approximately 12″-18″ high. Ideally (at least for the benefit of all the farmers/homesteaders/animal keepers) the area surrounding the design should by then be in full bloom — that is, ready for hay making proper, certainly so if the  Orta di Atella preservation of biodiversity is one’s concern (the advice of modern agriculture, so overtly focused on protein content of the hay — is 10% bloom. We disagree…)

See photos

At this stage a scythe-use course could be held and a great number (if the sign is large) of complete beginners effectively participate. The distinction between the tall blossoming stand and the shorter, greener design is easy to see. The greenhorns should be instructed to stop within a few inches (or a foot) of the line and the more competent of the mowers can then refine it. This is what we did during our 2006 event here – the Medicine Wheel was mown by almost 50 people, a portion of whom had barely mowed before that week. The material, of course, should be evenly spread as soon as it is cut and later made into hay.

One last step to help the sign be easily found next spring: Just before the first snow we cut the leftover scant growth from the narrow lines defining the design. The many heavy frosts it had by then received make it dry enough so that in a few hours of a sunny afternoon it can be put on racks.


The central fire pit of the Medicine Wheel sign has functioned for small gathering of friends during Solstices and Equinoxes, or just any full moon to sit by. Well, yes (in case some of the CO2 purists wonder) – at this point in time we still consider the occasional ceremonial bonfire a “justifiable” contribution to climate change…

The Grinning Reaper’s version of Descartes’ reflection: “I think therefore I am”.

This sign underscores the previous one (or is it the other way around?) In any case, we made it two years earlier, in the summer of 2001, as a kind of inauguration of our commitment to carry this message further afield and connect with scythe enthusiasts in Europe. We found Adolf Staufer in Molln, Austria, and the first concrete plans for our Symposium/Festival were made. The birth of this website was a natural follow-up. “Scything Makes Sense” simply expresses the core of this Network’s efforts — though it would not make sense to oil companies or lawn mower manufacturers. While relatively benign, it nevertheless defies their point of view…

Rebellious mowers with strong opinions can “write” protesting messages which, unlike the graffiti within a city, cannot be painted over by the corporate janitors — or attacked with billy clubs for “disturbing the peace” during a world trade convention.

Will it help? Of course. As Buddhists and nuclear physicists alike understand, “even one beat of a mosquito’s wing affects the Universe”. We are all also now under Big Brother’s watchful eye… The sign below was inspired by the Bush Administration’s approach to bringing peace to the people of the earth, because the old ’60s slogan is still pertinent.

As Willie Nelson put it in his (Christmas 2003) song:

“There’s so many things going on in the world
Babies dying
Mothers crying
How much oil is one human life worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth.”


During the winter preceding the Iraq Attack we stood on city pavement holding protest signs. It had its merit, although expressing the same opinion while barefoot in the meadow was far more pleasant. And even if the White House Boys don’t take that message to heart, their omnipresent surveillance satellites “had to” keep recording it all season long…From May to November we mowed the design itself three times and the surface in between twice. There are stages when, because of the contrast in growth, the sign looks very good. Even shortly before the first snowfall the letters were still quite legible from the air. However, it is not easy to find pilots with planes available at just the right time when all we could offer them was the cost of fuel…The air photos did not turn out well enough to do justice to the real thing. Therefore we’ve provided the diagrams, drawn to scale, from which we worked.

A little note on the phenomenon of so-called “crop circles” and similar mysterious occurrences.

One May morning we found an addition to our sign I AM THEREFORE I MOW. Considering its placement (see diagram below) it appears to be a signature. The letters inside the two crossed scythe blades might simply mean “Grim Reaper” — or “Grinning Reaper”, a more positive name for that mythic transformer. Yet “GR” could also stand for something more specifically relevant to the present state of world affairs — such as “Globalization Resistance”.

Until some real scientists seriously investigate the phenomenon, we’d appreciate hearing from anyone who might have some useful ideas…

After the design itself was mowed for the second time since the grass started to grow this year, Bob West of Bath, N.B. was kind enough to fly his little plane over the fields and take the photos below. The dove (being on a differently sloped part of the meadow than the heart) is barely visible. It will all look better next time when we mow and make into hay all the areas in between the design.

July 10, 2004 — The clarity of the photos is now improving. These shots were taken once we mowed the areas between the letters for the first time this season. The brownish background is the spread-out grass which received several showers while waiting for the plane.

The designs cover approximately 3 acres each.

More Photos

This photograph, taken by Peter Bucany, first appeared on the cover page of DON BOSCO magazine in Slovakia.

The man in the picture is not exactly the kind of “Grinning Reaper” who mows war protest signs in the fields; however, he does smile a lot. I believe he loves his work. He is Karl Dick, the head gardener of the extensive park surrounding the famous Schoenbrunn Castle in Vienna, Austria.

As explained to me by the estate’s director, Dr. Peter Fischer-Colbrie, this very old method of maintaining the floral design continues to be used because, in his words, “there is no better way to accomplish the task.”

Mr. Dick eagerly agreed to give me a demonstration and I could readily see how efficient it indeed was. He first walked along the designs and trimmed the top to approximately 20cm. in height. Then he made two more passes, each time rounding off the side opposite from where he stood.

He worked amazingly fast and appeared to be enjoying himself. What was equally fitting, considering the beautiful surroundings, was the silence.

After each such “manicure” (done three times throughout the season), the flowers are stimulated to produce new blooms and, as Mr. Dick put it, “they look natural again after a few days.”


Updated Feb. 2011