A Special Blessing
The Estate at Louisville has 5.1 acres, and about half of that is cleared for use as a lawn. During the summer months, the grass in these lawn areas grows almost so fast that you can watch it expand. I can notice a difference in the height of the grass from the time I leave for work in the morning and the time I come home in the evening. Lawn maintenance is a big job for one man – I either have to dedicate most of the daylight hours of a weekend day to it or about two hours a night split over four nights during the week to keep the lawn looking something like it should.
Hey, I know what you’re asking yourself, my dear reader. You’re asking, “What is it about all of this lawn mowing that the Transplanted Lawyer like the very best?” That’s a multi-faceted question and your first guesses are probably going to be wrong.
I can hear you now. “Is it the smell of the freshly-cut grass, Transplanted Lawyer?” No, that’s not even close. Surely you can do better than that. “It’s got to be how good the lawn looks when it’s done.” In fact, it looks marvelous – like a gigantic fairway on some endless golf course. But again, you’re not using your imagination very much.
“Okay, how about the taste of freshly-mown grass?” A perceptive suggestion, much better! And yes, it’s true that grass, and other weeds, and dirt, and gravel, often fly everywhere, covering my body in filth and sometimes, some of it flies into my mouth. The taste of Tennessee red-clay dust is particularly welcome when I’ve already become well dehydrated from several previous hours of work. But, as good a guess this is, it's still not the thing I like the best about the job.
“What about the challenge of driving that lawn tractor back and forth all over the place?” Or alternatively, “What about the ability to cut the grass in patterns, like the major league ballparks do to make those cool checkerboard or pinstripe patterns in the outfield?” Sadly, the joy of doing that is hampered by a poor steering mechanism on the lawn tractor, erratic functioning of the blades, and an irregular grade that requires careful steering. In fact, it’s kind of monotonous, and I can’t truthfully tell you that the monotony is the best thing about cutting the lawn.
Some of you who have known me for many years are saying, “Oh, you have allergies something fierce, dude. I bet your nose runs like the Tennessee River with all of that pollen and particulate matter that the mower kicks up.” You’re absolutely correct about the cause and effect, and yes, that’s certainly one of the dependable selling points of mowing the lawn. There are also at least three kinds of fungus that grow on the lawn, whose spores are remarkably effective at triggering truly violent and debilitating allergic reactions. But as much fun as allergies are, they're not the very best thing about this particular chore.
Others amongst the readership mow lawns themselves. From that experience, these folks know that in addition to pollen and particulates kicked up by the mower, tall grasses and flowering plants like clovers, thistles, daisies, dandelions, and the like also are host to myriads of our insect friends. Bees, hornets, and wasps are just the beginning; entomophiles will surely realize that the lesser mosquito, gnat, and noseeum are also common neighbors dwelling in our lawns. We also have greater mosquito, buzz-flies, bottle-nosed flies, tiny dragonflies, and a wide variety of white and brown moths that are also disturbed by the weekly destruction of their natural habitat, and typically seek new shelter by flying directly into my nose, mouth and eyes. And yeah, that’s pretty awesome too, but it’s still not the very best thing about mowing the lawn. So let’s hear some more guesses.
“It’s got to be the great feeling of satisfaction you have afterwards of a job well-done, Transplanted Lawyer.” If by that you mean the exhaustion and dehydration which result from spending an entire day outside, combined with an aching lower back and a constant ringing in my ears from the sound of the motor and blades, yeah, I have to admit that it’s a pretty mellow buzz in the early evening. But there’s still much better than that.
The front lawn is the fenced-in area. This is the domain of Sassafras and Karma, our two dogs. Before I can even mow the front lawn, I’ve got to get out there and take about half an hour to go on “poop patrol.” This can be an exacting, detail-oriented process. Not to mention smelly. It’s really great when the pooper-scooper’s bag collapses in mid-scoop, permitting me a careful and close view of what exactly the dogs have failed to digest. Pretty awesome, I’m sure you’ll agree. You just hang on for more, because it gets WAY better.
What about operating the mower itself? You’re getting really warm there. Sometimes if I’m not careful, I spill gasoline all over myself filling up the poorly-designed gas tank on the lawn tractor, and then I know that I’ll have the pleasant odor of petroleum for at least twelve hours – guaranteeing me freedom from any demand for sex that The Wife might have otherwise considered. I also really enjoy the feeling of panic that comes from operating the mower on a grade – the fear that the mower will tip over, causing me suffer a gruesome death or dismemberment; the somewhat more realistic fear that the steering mechanism is jammed too tight and will cause one of the front tires to rotate itself right off the wheel; and the very real fear that the tractor will simply not make the turn in the necessary radius and destroy some plant that I wanted to keep, like the wild strawberry or blackberry bushes we’ve got on the Estate’s grounds. But no, that’s still not the sweetest cream from this cow.
Those of you who have toured the grounds of the Estate know that the back portions of the yard are littered with old tree stumps. When the grass grows really tall, these become invisible and obscured by the tall grass, tree saplings, and ivies that grow around them. Inevitably when this happens, I will score a direct, head-on hit with the tractor. I can see you grinning now, exclaiming “Oh, TL, that’s got to be awesome!” And it definitely is. WHAM! The tractor comes to a dead stop, the engine makes a noticeably different sound, just as the full force of the impact is translated directly into my lumbar spine. It’s spectacular when that happens, but not the best part of the job.
“What about when you strike a hidden rock or stick of wood with the blades?” Ahhhhh. That’s a great feeling and I'm going to close my eyes and remember that for a second.
Everyone who has ever made a compost pile has fallen in love with it, and I’m certainly no exception. I’ve got a big, big mound of compost out back, and adding more and more grass to it is the fastest way I know to grow that wonderful, stinky, warm lump of sod, which looks like a big hay-colored monster ready to eat any creature in the woods. The eject screen next to the blade pans is connected to the bags by a series of three eighteen-inch diameter plastic tubes, which when assembled and secured by ridiculously-taut rubber strips is taller than me. A less efficient yet still credible-appearing design for gathering gross cuttings could have been concocted by particularly bright engineering students produced by MIT or Cal-Tech for an “improbable inventions” contest, but let’s face it, that would be a big challenge for all but the most gifted amongst them. So when the elaborately-constructed bagger tube does not lift and bag the grass cuttings – which happens about three times every four minutes while I’m working the lawn tractor – I have to stop the tractor, dismantle the bagger tube, and clear out the gigantic wad of twisted plant matter, reassemble everything, and then start over. Usually I find that I have accomplished nothing at all, and the bagger still doesn’t work. “Wow! That’s gotta be pretty much as good as sex,” you’re saying. “It just can't get better than that.” Yes, it can.
There’s always the possibility that on some special occasions, I will have missed a pile of dog shit out in the front yard, or come across a deposit of deer scat in the back yards. This spreads the fecal matter all over the blade pans underneath the mower, filling the air with its rich scent for hours afterwards. True, this is a special bonus when it happens, but it’s just not reliable or frequent enough to earn credit as the very best part of the job, and remember the contest is to figure out what the very best part of mowing the lawn is.
Those are all some pretty good guesses. But here's the right answer.
Lately, the tractor just doesn’t work worth a damn unless I spend at least the first third of the time I have budgeted for mowing to maintaining the tractor, and no act of maintenance seems able to be accomplished without putting life and limb in serious jeopardy. For instance, yesterday the blades were too dull to cut warm butter, so I had to jack the thing up, suspend the two-ton beast on cinder blocks, and get underneath it with a Dremel tool to sharpen the blades. Since it was an especially humid summer day in Tennessee, the safety goggles I wore to protect my eyes from the shower of bright sparks quickly fogged up into an opaque film covering the inside of the plastic – most helpful! (I eventually used the diver’s trick of spitting into the goggles to stop the fogging, which worked for a while.) Then tonight, I had to jack-and-cinderblock the tractor again because the belt that works the blades slipped off its gears and would not return. It took at least forty-five minutes, fifteen different tools, excessive amounts of WD-40, and multiple scrapes and cuts all over my hands and legs before the belt ran properly again. Every time I use that lawn tractor, it seems I’ve got to jack up one end, stick cinder blocks underneath it, then jack up the other end and use more cinder blocks to secure the beast, and stick my head underneath its sharpened blades and grimly contemplate exactly how much the whole tractor weighs and how apt the comparison of my skull to a crushed grape would be. And keep in mind, that happy event can happen as often as four or five times a week!
Oh, I swear, a week without mowing the lawn is worse than a week without sunshine.