Just 24 hours ago, I was wearing a black sundress and sunglasses, watching frozen blueberries bob in a glass of cold white wine. I sat in a patch of grass between the lavender bush and the lemon tree, alternately admiring the buzzing bees and the perfect yellow orbs ablaze in the late afternoon light.
Leaning against the stone wall, my scythe awaited. Earlier it had been delivered by neighbours Kiku and Emma (who also took the opportunity to pick a bag of lemons). Mercedes must have given them word that my garden was looking unruly. As part of her now daily balcony visit, she’d recently noted this with an all-encompassing wave of her hand.
In early March, Mercedes taught me how to use the aforementioned scythe, an object I’d only associated with the Grim Reaper up until that point. With an expert flick of the wrist, she’d cleared the patch of yellow wood sorrel, forget-me-nots, and nettles I’d been admiring. “Slow and steady,” I think she said, moving on to the mint.
When a woman like Mercedes is holding a long-handled scythe, it’s best not to stop her and say how much you actually enjoy what some people think of as beautiful wildflowers and herbs, not weeds.
“Now, you try,” she said, and I hunched down, hacking away at a somewhat less precious clump of grass. She surveyed the bruised yet still erect blades. “You have to practice,” she said.
Afterwards she taught me how to sharpen the curved blade – something I am certain I will never attempt lest I inadvertently lop off my head – and instructed me to store the scythe, at all times, in the garage.
When the next day I set to work, she stood on the balcony observing her pupil. Eventually, when I forgot she was there, I began to feel the rhythm of the swing. The freshly-sharpened blade began to slice through grass like a hot knife through butter.
When Mercedes saw my freshly shorn, or should I say scythed, lawn, she smiled one of her very rare smiles. “Much better,” she said. I felt as proud as on the report-card days of my youth, when all I needed was a neat row of A’s and maybe an A+ to show my mom and feel that all was right with the world.
But now all is not right with the world. Now, I have the heater on, trying to dry out my soaking wet socks and shoes from what was supposed to be a pleasant excursion to GADIS. I just checked the lettuce in the garden for hail damage and pulled sopping towels from the line.
Now the scythe is stored in the garage, indefinitely. They say this weather, like the lockdown, will last “for the foreseeable future.” This could be, dare I say, well into May…
As weather patterns shift, I worry for my hard-earned equilibrium. How sensitive I’ve become to the elements in my little microcosm of a world behind these stone walls. How much simpler it is, for some reason, when the sun is shining, and the scythe is scything.
But, thankfully, there is always John Steinbeck to remind me that the best things in life don’t always come dappled in sunlight:
“I’ve lived in a good climate, and it bores the hell out of me,” he wrote in his 1962 travelogue Travels with Charley. “I like weather rather than climate.”