Lessons in Neighborliness

A few years ago I attended the Healthy Foods, Local Farms Conference sponsored by the Community Farm Alliance of Kentucky. Amish farmer, naturalist and writer David Kline gave a wonderful speech that day. A question and answer period followed. The topic of technology came up. Of his people, David said, “We allow technology to the point that it doesn’t replace community.” Few statements have impressed and influenced me more.

Neighborliness is a treasure of great value. The Bible asks, “Who is my neighbor?” If we were to seriously consider that question, then we would be further impelled to ponder the prospects of how best to love our neighbor. This, of course, is something we’re not asked to do, but commanded to do.

If one were to implement the ideals implicit in David’s statement of practice, one would soon discover that the cost of such neighborliness, within the context of today’ s societal norms, would be relatively great. However, the possibilities contained within the practical experiences of genuine neighborliness would make of any cost a worthy offering, not given reluctantly, but gladly.

Our “turning around right” would begin with a willingness to live more poorly than most of us are accustomed. “He who would be last would be first.” We are talking about a simplification of life wherein the will of the Kingdom might be accomplished. We might even begin to see that the Kingdom is not representative of some far-off future state, but is represented here on earth. Spirit and flesh would be properly wedded and completely sustained by the creating, ever-present, renewing breath of God.

I have been keenly aware of the benefits toward neighborliness that the replacement of a single, nearly universal modem technology has wrought. Several years ago, after reading Wendell Berry’s essay, “A Good Scythe,” I purchased my first hickory snath and Austrian grass-cutting blade. I have used this scythe most often along the length of the roadside ditch in front of our home and barns. Last year, for the first time, I used it and a long-handled, wooden-tined rake to cut, windrow and stack loose hay for our horses and Angora goats.


Brian Lowry scythe mows a field at his farm. (photo by Melinda Lowry)

The first year or two after I began using this quiet, effective, fumeless tool, cars would slow down, people would stare and then motor on down the road. Last summer, cars began to stop. People (nearby neighbors mostly) began to roll down their car windows and ask questions. Pleasant conversations invariably arose.

One neighbor began to stop and visit quite often. Particularly because his wife and he are elderly neighbors, I’ve been proud to receive their words of encouragement. More than once, they have been aware of specific improvements my wife and I have made around our farm. A look of sincere pleasure marks their countenance when they make comments such as, “You sure are making things look good around here.” Their praise is the kind I’d be pleased to hear my parents make, were they still living.

Recently, this gracious couple stopped while I was whetting the blade before resuming sweeps with the scythe. We had had a rough storm the evening before. He asked if we fared all right through the storm. I assured him we had only minor damage to a few trees. His was a neighborly question not likely asked had I been trimming with a noisy, harsh-throwing, gas-powered weed-eater. Previous conversations, I believe, led him to this question of kind concern.

It so happened that his property had sustained some damage, not structural, but no less painful. An exceedingly old white oak, one of the largest in the county, had three large limbs blown out of it. The original members of the pioneer church across the road likely looked upon this same tree. My neighbor was distressed by the sheer amount of debris. He was distressed because company was coming the following day. He was distressed because this was the tree he had named “Mom’s tree”. The tree and the ground on which it stands are priceless to him. Neighborliness directed me to ask the simple questions and to offer the available hand of friendship. Soon after I completed my morning chores, I drove over to his place to cut and clean up the shattered branches.

A gracious circle of friendship was completed when he insisted that I keep the choice firewood. To make the neighborliness even sweeter, he had something special he wanted to give me. He asked that I stop just up the hill at his home. I did so. He was waiting for me, seated in a lawn chair just outside his barn when I pulled up. Beside him was an old scythe, complete with a brush-cutting blade. He told me he bought it in town many years ago. I could see that the snath had a delightful patina that came with age and good care. The blade was solid, well whetted, in fine condition. He leaned over the arm of his chair, clasped the snath, lifted up the scythe and asked if I’d like to take her home with me. He said he’d be pleased if I would.

A few weeks earlier I had told my wife I needed to buy a brush blade to add to my supply of scything tools. I have one now, complete with a story and a value far beyond the mere exchange of money.

Brian Lowry writes from the southern Indiana farm he shares with his wife and young daughter. His creative work has appeared in Farming Magazine, Ruminate Magazine, Avocet, The Herald Sparrow, HGTV’s book Flower Gardening and on WFPL radio’s “HomeGrown.” He is the 2007 winner of Ruminate Magazine’s Annual Poetry Contest.

*Editor’s Note: This essay was a finalist in The 2008 New Southerner Literary Contest.

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  1. thanks for sharing the sweetness of life. this is encouragement to get the push mower out this spring.

  2. What a beautiful, peaceful word picture you paint. I now live on a busy, noisy street in the city after five years in a much quieter, slower-paced place and especially appreciate the neighborly memory trip your essay evoked. I am working on creating my own peaceful, neighborly space here.

  3. Hi Janice,

    Thank you for the kind response. Sweetness, yes… There’s nothing quite like the sweetness of freshly mown grass, the fragrance of hay drying in windrows, or the pleasures of mutually helpful neighbors.

  4. Hi Danni,

    Thank you ever so kindly. I’m glad to know you’re pursuing peace where you abide. Thank you for reading New Southerner!

  5. After living in Texas for a year and finding how much we missed Kentucky we have moved back and built a cabin on some land we had. The neighborlyness has been remarkable. While there is something to be said for the community found through ideas via technology there’s another community of slowing down and getting by in just trying to live more simply. Thanks for the scythe info.

  6. Hi Laverne,

    That’s great news. Thanks for reading. One does see more beauty and experience life more fully by going slowly. Glad the scythe info was useful.



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