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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