June 12, 2016

"And so I cut, moving my hips in rhythm to the arc of the scythe’s swing, shuffling forward bit by bit, nibbling away at the foot-long grass..."

"... and depositing it on my left. I concentrate on keeping the blade in touch with the ground. It’s a dance of sorts. The dance of the mower and the grass. Tolstoy understood the satisfactions of this work. In 'Anna Karenina,' Levin joins the peasants to harvest the hay on his estate. His brother scoffs, but Levin is soon absorbed in his labors: 'The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt the moments of unconsciousness in which it seemed not his hands that swung the scythe, but the scythe mowing of itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, and as though by magic, without thinking of it, the work turned out regular and well finished of itself. These were the most blissful moments.' Working slowly and deliberately, with little noise, allows me to be part of nature, rather than striving against it...."

From "The Russian Peasant’s Workout" by Jeremy Hastings (in The NYT).

12 comments:

rhhardin said...

That's Soviet workman-hero boilerplate.

ALP said...

Funny story - related.

I began gardening by the "guerrilla" method: by commandeering a section of the public median strip by my apartment building. With no sod cutter, I set about, all 60" female inches of me, to manually removing the sod. It was brutal and took days. Roughly 20'x 10'.

On day #3 or so a neighbor, a middle-aged, male native of Russia, stops by while I am working on this to say: "I love to see this - I hardly see anyone in the US working that hard - In my country we die at at age 40 we work so hard..."

He said that last part as if it was a source of national pride.

And that was the first, and only time, I dug up grass manually.

buwaya puti said...

Try planting rice. In a tropical July. Up to your knees in mud.
And thats what the teenage girls do.

dreams said...

I enjoy manual labor too, when I'm doing it for myself or when I choose to do it. Though earning a living doing repetitive work in a factory was hard on my aging arthritic body, thankfully arthritis is mostly just an aggravation since retiring.

George Grady said...

Here's an interesting look at how different translators have handled that passage from Anna Karenina.

Gahrie said...

That's OK..I find nothing romantic in being a peasant or acting like one. I feel no shame in having a gardener to take care of that crap for me.

rcocean said...

I did manual labor when working my way through College.

It gets old quick. Its nice to be outdoors when its 60 degrees and the sun is shining. Less so, when its 40 degrees and raining.

I take my hat off to anyone who does it for a living.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

They used a scythe because that's all they had. If they didn't harvest they didn't eat, and they starved to death with frightening regularity just from bad luck.

Let's not over-romanticize aspects of the past (necessary manual labor, simplicity of life, etc).

Tommy Duncan said...

Hard physical work is good for the soul. Fighting through the pain is part of the cleansing process. But too much of a good thing is deadly.

I grew up in a blue collar family in a blue collar town. Many of the factory jobs included boredom, physical discomfort and daily exhaustion. Many men were "used up" by the time they were able to retire. Most factory retirees moved slowly and lacked both the physical and financial resources to enjoy retirement. Thankfully, there were still front porches with rocking chairs, gliders and friendly neighbors when I was young.

Terry said...

When I think health, I think 'Russian peasant!'

mccullough said...

Effective sequencing of the kinetic chain. Effortless power. Just have to make sure you time your weight shift properly.

Phunctor said...

A scythe looks bizarre. Two handles and a blade, all skew to each other. A strangely bent handle. But pick it up, use it, and it's perfection. That design has spent a long time getting polished.