At first it was difficult to wrap my suburban-lawn-care brain around the fact that I no longer lived in Seattle on a postage-stamp-sized lot. When I moved to the country, I remained ensconced in the protocols (or perhaps tyrannies) of city gardens and urban scale. Ten years later I am officially giving it up. I live on close to four acres, and anyone who wishes to live on and cultivate more is delusional, unless of course said pioneer has hired hands or attentive staff, or has produced a cadre of kids who revel in farm chores and land stewardship, and have yet to discover smartphones. (Dig, check messages, repeat.)
When I moved to Vashon Island, my wise neighbor Dan advised me to, “Chip away, Tom, chip away.” While this work approach still holds true today, I find that as of late, I wish to chip away at less and less. Choosing my daily battles has become a strategic survival guide in maintaining a healthy body and attitude (while still being able to do my own laundry, dishes and vacuuming). What I used to pursue and do a decade ago is not what I wish to spend my time on nowadays, like spending a half-day mowing the grounds around my house, orchards and lane. Don’t get me wrong; I cherish this place, every inch of it, but do I really need to mow a lawn comparable in size to the Quad on the UW campus? No, no I don’t. This epiphany didn’t come to me easily. It took mechanical intervention, public ribbing, and aching muscles for me to see the light; less lawn, more meadow was to become my new mantra.
Let me rewind a bit. The month was April and the grass was as thick and luxurious as a green chinchilla pelt. I gassed up the rider mower, put air in the tires, and prayed for a little divine intervention. Dear Lord, please may she start. Before that, I walked the grounds, scouring for objects deadly to a mower’s operation, things like stones, sticks, misplaced tools and broken lawn chairs. One hour into my circuitous lawn-cutting safari, I hit something —something buried beneath the blades of grass, something like the tip of a granite iceberg. In the lawn game of Stone Paper Scissors, Stone always wins. I’ll spare you the embarrassing details of me pounding the ground and sighing, “Why, why, why?” and cut to the chase.
I rode the mower into town busted blades and all, skirting the road shoulder like a wounded Don Quixote cursing the blades of grass beneath me and their evil rock co-conspirators. Of course every person on Vashon I knew passed me that day, waving, chuckling, and shaking their heads. I fear that day I may have fast-forwarded my induction into the island’s Eccentric Geezer Hall of Fame. The guys up at the repair shop had a good laugh and asked, “Didn’t you just bring this Craftsman in last fall?” “Why, yes, yes, I did.”
Weeks later, I rode my repaired mower home, enduring a bon voyage of cheeky remarks, and repair-shop smirks. “Remember, don’t mow rocks!”
Days later when the grass was dry and my spirit healed, I rode gallantly across my lawn, again eager to resume the crusade over tall grass. Minutes into the ride, I turned sharply to avoid a garden hose I had overlooked. I managed to hit a small fern clump, a soft woody, fibrous outcropping with the tensile strength of shredded wheat. Apparently that’s all it took to disable the blades.
No, no, say it ain’t so. The mower blades rattled freely like a bucket of wrenches. The belt labored, then paused. My mowing platform was DOA. I removed my earplugs, wiped the grass from my glasses, pulled out the key, and hurled it at the barn wall, all while sharing language ill-suited for a PG-13 rating. Retreating to the hammock, I licked my wounds, whined about shoddy construction, and called for Boz. (He’s good company in these situations.)
After gaining a wee bit of perspective and composure, I mounted my injured steed and headed off to the repair shop once again; but make no mistake, this time the earplugs stayed in until I returned home.