Sunday, May 17, 2015

if the question is not ‛to mow or not to mow’, then what?

Now Josie and I walk alongside the road most mornings but if the morning is cold and damp then in the afternoon. Some of those this week. One morning everything lined with drops of dew, drops of rain.

A murder of crows gathered high in a beech, made a lot of noise. A lot of birds made a lot of noise. I could not see them all, but I could hear them all. A thousand-piece orchestra tuning up.

I was watching the grand finale of America’s Ballroom Challenge. Out the window a wake of turkey vultures circled high in the sky. First four, then six, then seven. Their circling and soaring seemed to match the dancers’ circling and soaring, the flow of the dress, the flow of the wings.

Sometimes I think thinking is sorely maligned.

But then there is something I have been thinking about that feels downright stupid to be thinking about. At least thinking about so much. Letting it become a dilemma. The meaning of dilemma being, I think, “thoughts getting caught in the vise of indecision.” I was thinking about mowing, and not whether to mow or not to mow, but how to mow. Oi vey. I hate mowing. And here I am all wrapped up thinking about … mowing. Again! We all should be so lucky! To have such a dilemma! To have such a piece of turf to call our own! One that grows greener and greener and taller and taller (in certain months, that is) and, oh, no, so now we gotta mow! Again!

One morning a band of mist.

Last year I paid some guys to mow the lawn. Most often it was just one guy. The nice thing about it, of course, was that I didn’t have to mow, though I did mow once in a while as this guy couldn’t always get here between one rainy week and the next, and there is something about a shaggy lawn that just makes you want to mow it down. This guy mowed the lawn farther out from the cabin than I ever had, way farther out, exposing new topography and yet more old trash and pushing back the bugs, though I am beginning to think that is a rural legend, this idea that keeping the grass mowed also mows down the mosquitoes and ticks. But this year, I have not heard from the guy, and, anyway, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go that route again because for a while I have been thinking I should join the real world and buy a riding mower.


I could see it, you know. I could see sitting on a mower, riding around the property, maybe with headphones to protect my ears from the noise, getting it done, getting it cut, all at once, just one afternoon or evening every week or two, shaving that grass, those weeds, bouncing along, almost like a carnival ride, and I can still see it, imagine it, there I am now, mowing my driveway, whistling a happy tune.

This is not my fantasy.

While in California, I made a list of things that were, quite simply, making life here—here being a cabin in the proverbial middle of nowhere not to mention in the middle of big old fallow farm fields—challenging. “Yard” topped the list. (Really? That’s my biggest challenge? Again with the oi vey! Though the list may not have been thoughtfully ranked, as “isolation” was the last item on the list, just below “Flies.”) You see, a reel mower, which relies on human power, is the only type of mower I have ever owned, which does not mean, of course, that it is the only type of mower I have ever used. But you would have to go back to my childhood and pull out the electric mower my dad was so keen on—so keen he let me use it every week while he putzed around the yard picking up sticks and scat! But, believe me, he kept a keen eye on that mower as he directed me, waving me down whenever it was time to empty the bag or to flip the 50-yard cord, to get it out of my path, lest I, in my daydreamyness, run right over it, thus putting a fritz and fizzle on the proceedings. We were a fairly well-oiled machine, my dad and I, but not without our quibbles. But I believe that’s another story.

My dad got the electric mower, if I recall correctly, because it really teed him off tugging that little starter cord on the gas mower and having it go blipt blipt blipt blipt – nothin’ over and over again. I’m not absolutely sure about this, but maybe. My dad wasn’t much of a tinkerer, except with words, and maybe in that way we are alike. I don’t know. But I can tell you that the bug-a-boo I had about purchasing and using some new type of mower was that it just seemed too darn complicated. So even though I had that nice fantasy about a riding mower, the reality was: too complicated.

More misty morn, clearing.

So I’m thinking about this while the grass is growing like, well, weeds. And the weeds are growing too. So I hauled out the old reel mower. The blades were a little dull, but maybe, just maybe I could go back to doing this, this little clack clack clack in the middle of 18 acres …

When I was married and living in a funky little house in Chicago with a big front yard and then later in a suburb, my husband did the mowing. I loved it. He used a reel mower. The sound was wonderful. Clack clack clack clack clack. He wore a white T-shirt, green shorts, white socks and tennis shoes, a red bandanna around his neck or sometimes his forehead. Our dog Queenie loved to bark and jump around the mower, and if she was inside and heard that clack clack clack clack clack she’d jump and yip until someone let her out so she could jump and yip around the mower. She was part border collie. Does that explain it?

After we bought a house in the U.P. our ways parted, and I started using the reel mower. One time, early on, I was using it on a short slope of grass, really yanking it up and down this little weedy bank, and the next day my lower back hurt so much I could not move. After a day or two I thought I was done for. There I was, all alone in the U.P. Surely somebody someday would show up, find me dead on the floor, because lying flat on my back on the floor was the only way not to be in pain. So here I will die, I thought, kind of just as my mother worried. Not by falling off the ladder or drowning in the river, but killed by a reel mower on a grassy slope.

Josie and Elliott wonder: Will our yard ever get mowed?

The yard at that house wasn’t so big, but this yard here is huge. And there is a 500-foot (or is it 500-yard?) grassy driveway. Not to mention the trail to the river, which is much nicer when mowed 2-feet wide. But, of course, mowing the drive and the trail is not necessarily necessary. When I moved here I figured I would get a different mower, but then I started mowing with what I had, the reel mower, and kept on, even as it kept breaking, popping these things called C rings or E rings or maybe it’s ARG! rings, anyway, these very small, thin, two-third circles of metal, two of which are absolutely necessary to keep the whole dang handle on the mower. When a ring pops off, the handle pops off, all of a sudden like, which, as you might well imagine, really pissed me off (pardon the expression). I was popping rings all the time. I learned to keep a bunch on hand, thus out-smarting the Powers That Prevail Over Reel Mowers.

I get the feeling I’ve written about this before …

Which is why last year someone else mowed the lawn, and now here we’ve come full circle, maybe, almost, because how can I be going on and on about mowing? Anyway, so I was mowing the other day and suddenly I’m veering to the left because the mower’s neck, its handle, cracked clear through, well not quite clear through, but enough to put us off kilter. Now, if I had had duct tape in the house things might have turned out different, but I did not have duct tape, just wire, and as a fix for a broken neck, that doesn’t work, so I had to admit this reel mower was dead, as far as I was concerned, and as the grass was growing right before my very eyes, a decision had to be made. Go get duct tape, try to resurrect? (And what? Persist in a lost cause?) Riding mower? (Hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars!) Gas push mower? (Yanking and yanking that infernal cord!) Electric mower? (Who’s going to make sure there’s no fritz and frizzle?) Or … and it came to me in a flash.

A reel mower.

Isn’t she a beauty?

The next day I had to go to Marquette, so I stopped at Menards and got a brand-spanking new reel mower with a cushioned grip and sharpie-sharp blades. I put it together in about 10 minutes and knew exactly how to work it. I even made an outline of one of its E rings so I can stock up on the right size. (Yes, they come in all sorts of sizes.)

Looks like Josie in a port hole.
Note: Drawing not to scale.

This new mower doesn’t go clack clack clack but rather whirra-whirra-whirra, and you should see the grass blades shoot up behind it! Every once in a while it even catches and tosses the head of a dandelion.

So I’ve been out mowing, and even though I still hate it, I’m kind of lovin’ it, too.

R.I.P. But if you are interested, she may be
out at the end of the drive, yours for the taking.

Meanwhile, hummingbirds have returned from their winter vacations, and Josie chased a porcupine up a tree. To hear him tell it, life has never been so exciting.

Porkie in a tree, snacking.


  1. Oh, Leslie... You are so funny! Loved your story! My Mom has a couple of acres to mow and she loves it. She has a riding mower and my brother tunes it up for her. Her grass is amazing, sounds a lot like yours. It seems to grow as you watch it. What Mom complains about is not mowing, but pine needles. There are quite a few pines on her property and when they shed, it's a nightmare. Plus all of the cones. I kept thinking I should bring a big bag of them back to make something, but couldn't think of anything that wouldn't look too crafty...

    I thought about getting a reel mower, too, but when I read up on them, they do seem to have a short life and you have to constantly sharpen the blades. My Dad made one when they first moved to Brazil in the early 60's. The local mayor would have his gardener come and borrow it to mow their City Hall's lawn... (now I'm sure Brazil has uber fancy mowers...)

    I think you should try to find a barter solution for mowing... Some pies? Candles? Firewood? Or, if you can afford it, find a used rider... You would probably love it once you had it. But, these big pieces of equipment are so expensive and if you can do a trade, it makes more sense to me...

    Thanks for another fun Sunday story!

    1. I think if I had a riding mower, I would love it. But with some things there's just this block about getting there. I might look around for a used one ... but then, there is that maintenance, which may not be that big of a deal ... we'll see how the summer goes. Your dad must have been a tinkerer to have made a mower! And I envy your mom her pine trees -- If I had some closer to the cabin I think there would be less grass, more shade, and I'd walk on a path of pine needles, collect them, make little pillows that smell like pine. (Another fantasy!)

  2. Once again - a great read! And as I was reading one thought kept popping into my mind...goats! cows? Of course I suppose the mower does a neater job than the grass munchers!

    1. Which reminds me that my first thought when moving here was that I would get a couple of goats and let them do the yard. Then somebody said yes, you could convert this old "garage" into a stable and do this and do that ... and it got too complicated. The owl has flown! See you soon ...