I’m composing this in my head as I sit on the riding lawn mower, passing back and forth, back and forth through the yard as the kids ride their bicycles in the gravel.
We are not lawn people. Our acre of land has never been re-seeded or sprayed. It is some parts grass, but more parts white clover, dandelion, plantain, sorrel, dock and every other kind of sunshiny weed that grows in Western Missouri. We do not manage it in any meaningful fashion. We mow it mostly as a matter of necessity. If we didn’t, we’d be overrun by mosquitos, and our children would have no place to play. As long as we continue to get rain, mowing is a weekly chore from April to about August. Then the heat bakes the grass and we can get by with mowing only a couple times a month until October.
When we bought our property, we first went through a series of used riding mowers that did things like leak and quit slowly, or shudder and quit suddenly, or also quit spectacularly, like the time one began to smoke and then burst into flame while I was mowing the back corner of the yard. Constrained by budget, we gave up on riders and my husband mowed the entire acre with our push mower for over a year. I asked him about goats, but he was not amenable to the idea. Finally, just this spring, we purchased a new riding mower. The best thing I can say about the machine is that it works.
If it were up to me I wouldn’t mow at all. I’d leave the weeds to take over while I skipped off to do fun things like planting my garden or cutting wildflowers or hiking in the woods. A little bit of wild is good for the bees, I’d say. It’s good for the soil! And I’d be right, but I’d also be lying.
I don’t care as much about the bees and the soil as I care about shaking off the monotony of the duty I have to my property, my neighbors, and my family. I want to be doing something fun or exciting. Not passing back and forth, back and forth, keeping my eye on a barely perceptible line that wavers and disappears in a patch of shade. I don’t want to stay the course, keeping a steady hand on the wheel as I’m bounced and jostled by holes I should have filled in years ago. I don’t want to stop repeatedly to pick up sticks I could have removed way back at the beginning.
What exactly were we talking about again?
It’s mostly mowing. It’s mostly not armfuls of wildflowers, nor the thrill of a seedling coming forth from the soil, nor a beautiful hike in a peaceful woods. It’s regular, monotonous maintenance, and it’s not even always clear whether that maintenance is doing anything beneficial. Just back and forth, back and forth, doing the task at hand with tools that are often blunted and sometimes on fire. Striving to see the line in the shady places, picking up the sticks you should have dealt with long ago. Wondering whether you should have left it all to the bees to begin with, and then examining what your motivations are for doing that. Occasionally you’ll get to glimpse the fruits of your labor — your children playing catch on a smooth green lawn or a hundred fireflies dancing in the newly mown grass. But mostly it’s just mowing over and over again until there comes a season where the winds shift and the duty begins to look different.
Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
The secret to mowing — because that’s what we’re talking about here — is learning how to be ok with it.