Cobwebs festoon a scythe

corroded colors, same state: decay, their dates the only history of whoever tilled the soil -- Scythe, Stuart Dybek

In order for something to qualify for the intangible heritage list, it first has to be recognized as a tradition worth saving by the people who practice it. I suppose that's how something that sounds as innocuous as "cutting the grass" initially was added to UNESCO's list. This ritual, which takes place in the small Northern town of Kupres, Bosnia and Herzegovina, results in rows of neatly shorn fields that one can admire for their symmetry. But is a cut lawn really heritage?

Initially, while reading the title text about this ritual, I envisioned the mundane task that many American kids have endured and wondered at what point we would solidify the Saturday morning chore of pushing a diesel-powered mower through ankle-high grass in diagonal lines as an artwork worthy of protection. Would tourists flock to the suburbs to watch our kids in green-stained Keds and cut-off shorts as they do loops around the backyard (sleeves carefully rolled to avoid a farmer's tan)?

Yet the accompanying pictures told a different story—one of waist-high grass being scythed by an earnest-looking man dressed in lederhosen-like pants, a woman and child adorned in blousy, delicately embroidered linens and enormous black hats, watching from behind. The meadow is encircled by what is presumably the townspeople, their clothing matching that of those in the center. There are about a dozen men adorned in their costumes, scythes and rakes at their sides. The Saturday morning ritual of grass cutting takes on a new, community-level meaning.

It is not as if the mowing of the lawn in the US context is not something done for the community, as is made abundantly clear in the television adaptation of Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, (a book and tv series that are both excellent). Yet this ritualistic mowing and raking is an orderly competition among the townsmen; the winner takes home both a trophy and a large bottle of wine. It may serve to clear the fields but it appears to be a highlight on the social calendar for the 300 citizens of one of the poorest municipalities in the country.

Perhaps it is not the tradition itself so much as the town that this designation as intangible heritage will save. While it's hard to imagine people from around the area, let alone the world, traveling to Kupres to indulge in the competition and its celebration, without this event, the dying community (its population halved in recent decades) may not be there in the future.

That's something that I think about a lot—and I'm sure many others are thinking about, too, in the year 2020. What traditions, rituals, are worth saving? Which places?

Already, I find it hard to remember those suburban afternoons spent pushing the gas mower through the sodded Kentucky green. Our neighbors here in Germany have opted for a noiseless robot that we hear spinning its wheels in the yard on Friday evenings (because Saturdays, the garden is reserved for the kids to play soccer). Would my child even recognize a sickle or a scythe in a painting in the future? Would her children look at a Van Gogh painting of a boy, cutting grass, in puzzlement, wondering what that blurry tool in his hands was?

When I think things like this, get nostalgic for the nuisances that I once took for granted, wished away, I begin to feel as though my age is settling in. My bones may not yet creak but the wistfulness is there. Is it the pandemic provoking this longing for a freshly mown lawn in the neighborhoods of my youth? Or is it simply a way of life that is being mourned, a way of living made obsolete by virtue of technology but which, at least in some small rural towns, can be cast in amber through UNESCO's protective funds? But if the only way to protect these traditions is to have them deemed worthy of securing by those who take part in them, I ask you, then:

What would you like to see survive? What can we do without?

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