The Maine weather was spectacular this weekend. Eighty degrees here and warmer in other places. Clear and dry, too. I regretfully ate the last cantaloupes I grew this summer.
Uncle Bob and I pulled up the spent sunflowers and dug up the remaining half-row of potatoes. I had gone over to borrow his tree pruner, but it seemed impolite to borrow and run, so I helped with the sunflowers and the potatoes. He had already pulled up the tomatoes and put away the rain barrels earlier in September with no help from me.
After we went to the transfer station with the sunflowers, we brushed the dirt off the potatoes and admired the harvest. Almost a bushel. Then Uncle Bob said “today’s haying weather. I’ll bet Charlie Smith is mowing today.”
I don’t know Charlie Smith personally, but his family has lived in the well-kept farmhouse on outer Main Street for a long time. The Smith family own several hay fields on the way out of town, too.
Hearing the word “mowing,” I knew I had already spent more than my allotted time on Pleasant Street. I threw the tree pruner in the back of the Jeep and hurried back to my house. I dragged the lawn mower out of the garage and emptied the clipping bag. I made sure it was gassed up. Then I pulled the starter cord and the damn thing roared to life.
When I first moved into this house, I looked forward to mowing the lawn. I foolishly thought I might be able to mow with a manual push reel mower, but I quickly discovered I would need a little more than my own power to tame the lawn. The first time I mowed, I borrowed my father’s push mower and it was an enjoyable lawn mowing experience. Reggie suggested I hire someone to mow for me, but I said ‘no.” Mowing the lawn is good exercise and although the yard is pretty large, it has a gentle slope in the back. Pushing a mower up that grade would be manageable and except for the steep incline next to the porch, it was a completely do-able home maintenance duty.
Then I got a self-propelled lawn demon.
It was heavy and temperamental and if I didn’t empty the bag at the instant it filled up, the rear belt would lock up and it wouldn’t “self-propel.” It would start making a high-pitched squeal and I’d have to stop mowing, empty the bag and also unclog the belt. Briefly satisfied, the mower would drag me across the yard with a speed all its own. Trying to turn corners with that old hog was killing my knees and sometimes I wondered if it was trying to pull me over the drop off in the backyard.
After one mowing session, my dreams of idyllic summer lawn mowing work-outs quickly turned into dread and anxiety. When my friend Alan mowed my lawn as a house-warming gift, I decided to engage his services instead of mowing the lawn myself.
I felt guilty and I felt like a failure. When I would hear the Helen Reddy anthem “I am woman, hear me roar,” I would think to myself “I’ll bet Helen Reddy doesn’t have a self-propelled lawn mower.” It didn’t matter; as one of my funny friends might say, I hated that mower with the white-hot intensity of 1,000 burning suns.
By the middle of August, the 1,000 burning suns had shifted in the sky and the grass stopped growing so fast. I told Alan I was going to try mowing the lawn myself again. I lowered the height setting and scalped it, but little had changed with the mower’s handling. I had changed, though, and I practiced various affirmations to make the task manageable. I repeated phrases like “I am at peace with the lawn mower,” and “pleasant thoughts wash over me while I’m mowing.” Sometimes, I was more straightforward. “God, help me finish mowing the lawn without getting hurt.”
This past sunny Saturday, I decided to mow only the small portion of lawn visible to the neighbors and then on Sunday, mow the rest of the lawn. I started with the small patch next to the driveway and then the steep incline by the porch, the “suicide slope.” I ran the mower at the slowest possible speed and inched it diagonally across the slope. After a variety of contortions and gyrations, the slope was done and so was I.
Around 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, I started on the backyard. History quickly repeated itself and I found myself in the lower half of my lawn with a dead mower at the end of a long mowed strip. I pushed that dead weight blankety-blank back into the garage and texted Alan.
“Do you have time to mow for me this week?”
“You can have my lawn mower, too. I’ll pay you to take that piece of BLEEP.”
Around 6:00 p.m., Alan drove up and I thought he was going to mow the lawn with his professional riding lawn mower. Instead, he unloaded a cute little mower and said “Try this one out.”
Why, it was light as a feather! And I didn’t have to engage the self-propel feature if I didn’t want to. It was like an old-timey lawn mower, the kind I remembered using when I had my little lawn mowing business all those years ago. Alan stayed until I waved him off and I set out for the place where the demon mower had stranded me earlier in the afternoon. Dusk was dropping in; the day’s light was dimming. I was walking at my usual brisk pace, mowing the lawn. Here it was–the enjoyable experience I had been searching for all summer. No frustration and no angry thoughts of driving the mower over the drop off. No affirmations. This is how farmers must feel on a beautiful, dry day like today as they hay their fields by the light of the moon.
As I took the last few passes at the lawn, I looked up in the sky and saw the shiny silver sliver of a rising crescent moon. I turned the mower off and waved up at the man in the moon.
“If you’re out there mowing tonight, Charlie Smith, good night to you too!”