Mr. Mows All the Time

Mr. Mows All the Time is across the street. Not even May yet. And his yard is maybe 2/3 green, but more like 50%.

In his green shorts, grey tennis shoes, and straw hat—unbecoming for someone who’s in his early 30s—he will mow 2-3 times per week until November. Rain or shine. Growth or no growth.

A few weeks after his first mow he scalps the yard, then for the next three days the yard will be littered with hoses as he tries to green up the damage. He will do this at least once every month. Sometimes his wife, with baby on hip, will have to move sprinklers in the early evening. No sprinkler remains on any portion of the lawn for more than thirty minutes.

Soon the chorus of mowers will drown out the spring birds gathering their nests, raising their young. When one mower stops, another will start up, as if keeping some sort of vigil, sentinels at the gate of tranquility that won’t let you pass. In winter the snow blowers take over, but unlike their daylight cousins, snow blowers usually run at 6 or 7am. When I was growing up in Minnesota, a neighbor routinely did his driveway at 4am, just in time for the other neighbor to begin at 5am.

This winter Mr. Mows All the Time bought a snow blower.

April 19, 2010

Mr. Mows All The Time mowed this Monday morning, right on schedule. He mowed on Wednesday or Thursday of last week. It hasn’t rained here in I can’t remember how long. So, how much plutonium is he using to justify mowing twice a week, as he will do until hell or the lawns freeze over in November?

Yesterday my wife went to read on the garden bench in the morning. Read with an iPod even. She came in because our neighbor to the right began mowing his lawn.

Then as I was grilling dinner, the neighbor to the left mowed her lawn.

Saturday morning I was grading essays at the kitchen table, and slid open the porch door to some lovely, purely miraculous weather. Within ten minutes the back neighbor comes plodding along on his riding mower—wearing giant ear protectors (like you’d see on aircraft carriers). What does that tell you? He had to mow his weeds, and I got to close the door and instead breathe my slightly-polluted-less indoor air.

This nonstop buzzing and whirling has me going insane. Two of my neighbors, including Mr. Mows All The Time, complete their 45-60 minute mowing cycles with blowing lawn clippings around. Mind you, we have 20-30mph winds quite often that cleanly and cheaply blow these clippings back on to the lawn. We live where wind comes sweeping down the plain like Armageddon.

Sometimes, I feel like the sooner we kill ourselves the better off the few of us left behind might be in the long run. That’s a bad way to look at things, I know. Do people really enjoy mowing their lawn? Is this leisure time, connect with nature time, joie de vivre? (The sweat and gasping mouths would indicate not.) What might they be escaping inside those houses? How much anger, fear, terror, and a sense of placelessness underlie all this mowing, all this rampaging about the landscape?

As I pry apart the mini blinds to leer at Mr. Mows All the Time, I want to walk across the street with a sledgehammer and proselytize. But I’d rather have a natural conversation that segues nonchalantly to our discussing the 17 million gallons of annually-spilled gasoline, that lawn mowers alone (not including all those other unfiltered machines) comprise 5% of our nation’s air pollution, and that walking behind a lawnmower your entire life greatly increases your chances for various lung diseases. I want to say that mowing for one hour puts out as much pollution as eight new cars driving highway speeds for the same length of time. I want to say, gee, Ryan, Jim, Steve, whatever your name is, all the synthetic fertilizer you spread four times each summer is a waste that pollutes our streams and groundwater, and then it does nothing to improve the soil so you don’t need to water or fertilize as much. You’re just giving money to corporate drug dealers.

Then you know what I want to do? Like some Jehovah’s witness I want us to be spiritually overwhelmed, get on our knees, and feel the grass. I want us to cry over all that spilled gasoline, all those petrochemicals leached into the dirt and our bodies—into the feet of his young son bouncing across the lawn—and I want a revelation. I want him to see his son light up chasing a bird that takes cover in a small street tree, or a butterfly hovering near a flower. I want him to connect the dots, and see the joy that all of this is, that one aster can save a bee colony, that one oak tree is host to over 400 different butterfly species alone. I want Mr. Mows All the Time to come to the dark side, because that’s exactly where gardeners are—eccentric, hippy, go against the flow, crazy and insane plant nuts who you see piddling about in flower beds at dawn and dusk, likely practicing some kind of witchcraft, garnering a sinister earth-based knowledge that demands nothing less than a giant “A” be painted across their garage door.

I want this, but I know in my conversation I’d be too earnest, too direct, too opinionated. One must convert by example, even if it seems no one else is converting, so one must be patient. And one must do a lovely, gorgeous, subtly simple job of it—especially in the front yard. Someday, ages and ages hence, Mr. Mows All the Time might walk across the street and ask me about the weeping white birch, the fruiting dogwoods covered in robins, the chokecherry tree with hole-ridden leaves. I might feel confident enough that he can handle the backyard, and gently nudge him around the corner, through the gate, and hope—as I always hope a passerby will do—get lost in the other world we’ve forgotten we’re a part of.

[This piece is adapted from my book, Sleep, Creep, Leap]

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  1. says

    Once again your lawnmowers spin me from rage to despair to hope. Our neighbours mow, with noise, and fossil fuel. But not often,thank goodness. And they know we are the crazy ones, with no lawn, and have you seen their WEEDS!
    Elephant’s Eye recently posted..Blogspot for the birds

    • says

      You know, I should’ve mentioned he just sold his house. His lawn is immaculate, and except for all that machine noise, they’re quiet folks. Lots of college kids rent homes around here, so it could be worse. Still….

  2. Jane says

    We don’t have a neighbor who mows all the time, but our neighbor turns their air conditioner on around May 1 and doesn’t turn it off till October. If it’s 75 degrees or higher, their air is on. We get to listen to their central air unit going day and night. They never open their windows. And they don’t recycle. They’re both educated professionals who should know better.

    • says

      It it’s nice out I do like to have the windows open to air out the house, but I must confess my massive aversion to heat (I’m not a good trooper in heat, and prone to making myself sick). On the other hand, I do love my neighbors who, in spring and fall, have their windows open AND the a/c turned on.

  3. Eileen says

    Wow, you went right to the heart of the situation my husband and I deal with year round. Drives us insane. Now I don’t feel so alone in my state of high anxiety when the LOUD lovers take over the sound zone.
    When the first sweet weather of late spring finally arrived here I went out to play in the front garden. As people of all ages strolled down to the park at the end of our block, or cycled by on their bikes, I could actually nod and say hello and share a smile. I could appreciate the breeze and see how insects conversed with the flowers and the blueberries shimmered in the sun. That would not be possible if I was honking away with a power tool. High five and thank you for the post. I look forward to the book.

    • says

      Eileen, aren’t those first few days in spring perfect? They are so fleeting. I’ve come to enjoy winter very much, especially during snowfalls when I can go inside and here nothing, NOTHING, but snowflakes hitting the ground or my coat. That is heaven. Someday, I’d like to hear nothing but insects at the flowers–though today, the mountain mint looks like it has a halo of snow rolling around it like some shaken up snow globe.
      Benjamin Vogt recently posted..Monarch Gardens Consulting / Coaching — Open for Business

  4. Lisa Gibson says

    I know exactly how you feel. We moved a year ago from a big beautiful estate type home where pretty much EVERYONE had a yard crew for their 3 –5 arcre yards, everyone but us that is. Steve has always done our yard. Anyway, no yard crew was the same and they came at one house or another 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. There was never a minute somebody somewhere within earshot was NOT having their yard done. On Saturday and Sunday it was the couple of guys who did their own yards (like us) Mowers, blowers, shredders, something. It was never peaceful to me.
    This new, much smaller rural home we downsized to has a big front and back yard, probably about 2 acres, that Steve tends to on the weekend, but out here so does everyone else. Men here do their own yards and since they all work too, they do it on Saturday. On Sunday maybe one or two. But it is a much more quiet peaceful neighborhood that the one I left.

    • says

      It’d be nice to plan your life around when you can’t live it, or at least, enjoy the serendipity of the outdoors on whim. I also suffer from living in a new neighborhood–construction from 6 to 6–where no one plants anything at all. Grass grass grass. That’s another post, though.
      Benjamin Vogt recently posted..My Mother’s Pond

  5. Cora Howlett says

    I love, love, love this post! It is wonderful knowing there is at least 1 other person who feels like I do about gardening, etc. I had to lol reading your thoughts. My husband tells me I am a pessimist and so much of the time, I am. We live out in the remnants of what used to be the countryside, but across the street from us is a GMO crop of corn and beside that is GMO soybeans, and so it goes all up and down the road. And, yes, the lawn mowers keep on running. Guess I’m lucky I’m just a pessimist and not…don’t think I had better say that. It gets worse as you get older, so hang in there, Benjamin, and keep your sense of humor.


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