Sunset bison

Sunset bison

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Everything I need to know I learned from behind a lawn mower

It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use a push mower.(Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method, 1637. Annotated.)

According to a not-so-recent article in Newsweek, the latest trend in lawn mowing technology (and suburbia) is for bigger and—bigger. And I mean big. The latest riders from John Deere are the lawn mowing equivalent of an Abrams tank, and about as costly. What genuinely depressed me was the statement that many men who purchase these new extravagant machines are residential owners whose lots sizes frequently run less than a quarter acre in size.

Let that sink in a moment: Less than a quarter acre. That ain’t very big. And these guys need such equipment to do it? Pathetic.

Perhaps I should specify that these aren’t technically riders, but tractors of the sort that can also plow, furrow, excavate and launch nuclear warheads at less-well-tended yards. Not to be pedantic, but if it mows, it’s a lawn mower.

I could sympathize if the lawn size required something gargantuan, but clearly that’s not the case. With a nod toward the buyers, Newsweek admitted that the riders are little more than status symbols.

Let me be blunt: any man who buys one of these monsters for a quarter-acre lawn is a weenie. It doesn’t matter how wealthy, successful, handsome or virile the man is. He’s a weenie, and no amount of primping will change it.

When a man (or woman) attaches himself to such a device, a detachment naturally occurs. The height, power and, let’s admit it, cost separate the user from the land itself, not only in the physical domain but in a psychological dimension as well. This is no mere yard maintenance but an imposition of will upon nature herself. Man the dominant species. And the bigger the engine, the wider the cutting path, the heftier the price, the more dominant the male.

Balderdash, I say. Only by using a push mower can mankind connect to himself, his neighbors, his community, and the universe.

Strong words, yes, but consider: push mowing takes time, and time allows one to think and to study, to visualize, to engage with all one’s senses. The benefits are measurable. The larger the property, the larger the benefit. Given the time I’ve spent behind a push mower, the insights granted by my willingness to compete with nature as an equal have compounded until now, for the first time, I am offering to share my acumen. My only hope is that my humble words will turn others away from the path of behemoth equipment and let them reconnect to themselves and to their world.

1. It isn’t the size of your equipment, it’s the way you use it. My neighbor has a Dixon riding mower that will crop a quarter acre at a time. Mine is a small 21” push mower. He zips back and forth in neat, tidy rows, scything everything in his path. My yard has trees, shrubs and flowers I must avoid, so I plan my attack accordingly. If some other path suddenly strikes my fancy, I deviate and seek adventure. Don’t get stuck in a rut is my motto.

2. The condition of your lawn is not as important as how you feel about it. My neighbor keeps his lawn green, cropped and weed-free. Only Kentucky blue grass is allowed to grow on his property. He weeds, fertilizes, sprays with toxins and spends an exorbitant amount of time perfecting his lawn. Mine is a botanist’s nightmare, a mass of common weeds and plebian grasses. But they’re green and that’s all that matters. They need no guidance, and they provide sustenance for the grasshoppers.

3. All you need is all you need. Too much yard and you waste your life worrying about when it’ll get mowed. Too little and you’ll wish you had more so you could buy a bigger mower. Be content with what you have.

4. Don’t procrastinate. The longer you put off mowing, the deeper the grass gets and the harder it is to manage. Be methodical and you’ll never find yourself in over your head (literally).

4a. Parker’s Corollary: Don’t let your lawn be a dictator. If something comes up you’d rather do, do it. The lawn won’t die.

5. Keep an eye on the little things. Mowing is a time to connect to the natural world. Understand that it does not revolve around you or your desires. It is whole, entire, self-contained. All humans can do is coexist or muck it up. Opt for the former.

6. Your mouth should be closed more than it is open. That way, nothing flies in that shouldn’t. Learn to listen, to refrain from saying something you shouldn’t, to appear concerned about others’ opinions. Even if the speaker is a dolt. (Yes, this is one lesson I still struggle with.)

7. Watch where you’re going. Don’t go blindly into the future; plan, prepare and act.

8. Be patient. Though the amount of yard left to mow looks huge, and though you droop from weariness and humidity, keep on! Success comes through persistence and faith.

9. Reward comes through hard work. Nothing is ever easy and don’t forget it.

10. Neatness counts.

11. Treat others as you would be treated. The Golden Rule is applicable to all things, even yard maintenance. If your lawn looks unkempt, your neighbor’s will as well, and vice-versa.

12. Life is beautiful. Take time to smell the roses. (See #7 or you won’t have any.)

And lastly, the most important lesson I can offer: Life is unfair. Grass grows back. Weeds abound. Work never ceases until winter’s arrival, and that’s just as bad. My only advice: Develop a fondness for your mower. Give her a name. Relish her company. You’ll be seeing a lot of each other in the next few months.


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