April 21, 2019

Mowing Lawn

Note from CM: I wrote this essay many, many years ago, I think in the late 1990s. Now that we have a new house, with a fine yard that requires a lot of mowing, I thought it might be time to dig this out. One very definite change: at my age, and with a new yard that is twice as big as I’ve ever owned, I will be looking to purchase a riding mower. But I’ll still mow some of it walking.

• • •

Mowing Lawn

Something there is that makes me sigh with pleasure over a newly mown lawn.

As long as they live with me, my children will probably be spared one of suburbia’s common chores. I will never let them mow lawn. It happens to be one of the favorite activities in my life, and I’m not giving it up.

I once heard a preacher talk about his father, also a minister. He said his dad loved to mow lawn and do yard work because, when he was finished he could stand back, look it over, and say like God after a day of creation, “It is good!” Something accomplished. A task completed. In a life filled with jobs that never got done, what with Sunday coming every week without fail and, of course, people work being what it is, it was good for the old man to have an assignment he could finish and be satisfied with.

That’s part of it, I guess. I reckon I do walk around after the mowing’s done to admire the neatness and order that’s been restored. Preacher or not, Lord knows that few things in anyone’s life these days are tidily arranged or brought to closure. Something there is that makes me sigh with pleasure over a newly mown lawn. Chaos subdued, that’s what it is.

Here is another reason: walking behind that mower just happens to be one of my prime thinking times. I’ve probably composed more songs, developed more new ideas, solved more problems, and gained more insight while mowing lawn than during any other activity. My boss should pay me to go home and mow. When following that machine, the drone of that Briggs and Stratton blocking out distractions, I am a monk, a Desert Father, a contemplative. Visions come to me. Answers to questions in my life somehow become clear when I’m trekking back and forth across my backyard, pulled by that machine.

I’ve always been able to think best when walking. In college, when pulling all-night marathon cram sessions, I would secure permission from a security guard, go to one of the empty classrooms and pace all night. From blackboard to last row, from one side of the room to the other, around and around, I would read through my notes, memorize, talk through concepts, make up acrostic devices to help me remember, set the material to song or rhyme — whatever it took to etch it into my mind.

The same pattern stood me in good stead when I took biblical Hebrew in summer school at seminary — a year of language learning (a challenge for me at any pace) in six weeks. I wrote so many songs out of my rhythmic walking meditations that I put them on tape.

Learning has always come by a walking beat for me. I will never, I repeat never, get a riding mower. Only by strict doctor’s orders.

My kids sometimes beg me to let them mow. Not very often, mind you, but once in a while. They’re still small enough that the big self-propelled mower I have is too powerful for them to control for very long. That’s good — I have a ready excuse for saying no. And when that doesn’t work, I usually mumble something about not having enough time to let them do it, and, you know, I can get it done more quickly if I just do it myself. Occasionally, I’ll mow off a square, reluctantly hand the mower over to one of them and let them do a spot. But that’s all. Then it’s my turn again. It’s time to return to my cloister walk, time to pull up the hood on my cloak and start chanting.

Come to think of it, I never actually could have been a Desert Father. Not enough grass. I would only work if some nearby oasis would let me come on Saturdays to mow.

Comments

  1. A reel mower, that was my first contemplative tool. A small grassy plot with a Rowan tree and Carnations. And dreams. Imaginations. Silent conversations behind the spinning blades. My Granny”s grass mowed, something little ten year old me could manage. A great service, she said. I can see her dimples tonight, as memories wash up on tides of years. Today, no time is silent. Fill it with music and video and anything which close up my thoughts behind a wall of sound. Broken dreams, dashed hopes, words better forgotten. Decades have passed, a couple to come. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take a walk. Make some straight lines. Listen and think. And maybe dream again.

  2. Susan Dumbrell says:

    My contemplation is less strenuous,
    The past few evenings I have sat in my garden at dusk.
    Last night I saw the International Space Station fly overhead.
    I have been watching it over the past month.
    I have been watching its path on the Internet.
    Last evening it cut right across our Southern Cross.
    I know they are millions of miles apart but the vision was splendid. The sky was crystal clear.
    The fruit bats are still making their evening pilgrimage to the orchards.They fly so silently over my house.
    A few good frosty night will see them migrate north.
    Tonight as I came out of the Nursing Home I sat on their garden seat and said a few simple prayers of thanks.
    My husband knew me and said ‘thank you’ to me. I helped him eat his meal.
    He now can’t swallow well and is on pureed foods and thickened drinks, but he said ‘thank you’.
    Beautiful calmness in their garden after the hectic Dining Room inside the Home.
    It was so peaceful sitting there.
    So my contemplation is less physical. I guess we all have our own methods.
    Peace to all IMonkers.
    Susan

  3. I see in the American lawn mowing tradition both ancient and modern. Like you, I love the meditative actions of mowing the lawn. I am not big on obsessively dumping chemicals, I see that as an example of modern philosophy, believing humankind has to be in control of our destiny.

    Or, I could just be stingy.

  4. I love mowing my lawn. It’s a selfish, sweaty pleasure. It works the body and frees the mind. I have a teenage son but I could count on one hand the number of times he’s mowed our grass. He does mow his grandparents’ lawn regularly, though, so he’s not being deprived of the experience entirely 🙂

    Mowing taps into some sort of latent agrarian instinct, I think. My lawn is certainly no showpiece, with some bare spots and a few weedy patches, but when I finish I look at it and think it is good.

  5. I once asked this question to open men’s fellowship one Saturday morning:

    When mowing you lawn are you a “always mow it the same pattern” kinda guy, or a “I mix it up a lot and do different patterns” kinda guy?

    I’m a mix it up kinda guy. Rarely do I mow it the same way twice in a row.

  6. Ronald Avra says:

    My back yard is currently overgrown with Ohio Spiderwort; bees love the stuff. Spiderwort has lots of blossoms, with prominent stamens. I’ll let the bees work it for another four to six weeks, then cut it by hand. The rest of the summer I will mow it to about four inches and hopefully keep watering to a minimum.

  7. Nope. Despise it. But I understand about the meditation part. For me, that time is running.