I keep hearing of more and more people my age—late 50s, early 60s—who are moving to easy care condos with a few potted plants on the deck. Every year at field mowing time this seems like a damn good idea to me. And also, a horrible prospect.
We’ve got about a dozen grassy areas on the five acres surrounding our house that need an annual mowing. Reasons: reduce fire danger, aesthetics, keep brush from growing in. Side benefit: gain insight into the adage, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
This is a unpleasant job. My attitude hasn’t changed from two years ago. Except, I now own a new DR Field & Brush Mower which, while possessing some nifty improvements, definitely seems heavier than the old one.
That isn’t inconsequential with the sort of mowing I have to do. We’re not talking about walking around in circles, methodically felling long pasture grass. No, I’ve got to make countless sharp changes of direction to miss the countless trees on our property that we’ve planted to satisfy the Green urges of Laurel, a.k.a. Janie Appleseed, my beloved wife.
Even after an hour of wrestling the mower in hot sun around those frustrating obstacles, I still love her. But I hate the trees.
When they were smaller I’d fantasize about rolling right over the bastards and vastly simplifying my field mowing life. However, now most of them are too big to cut down that way. Plus, Laurel would notice the absence of an eight-foot fir. Believe me, I’ve given a lot of thought to this while in the depths of my field mowing hell. She’d notice.
So I yank the mower this way and that, getting as close to their trunks as I can. Hopefully it scares the S.O.B.s. The mower has a reverse gear. But usually I abjure it for short backups. It saves time to pull the machine backward with muscle power. It also uses more energy.
I figure that so long as I can handle this job, I’m not ready for the retirement home. Or the condo with a few potted plants. There’s a genuine satisfaction (I hesitate to call it joy) in tackling the same physically demanding task at the same time every year in just about the same climatic conditions.
It lets me know that, at the age of 57, my bodily capacity isn’t so different from how I was at 47. That’s reassuring. And any seeming difference from last year I can chalk up to the heavier mower.
Laurel sometimes says, “You know, we could always hire someone to do the mowing.” Strangely, I hate the idea of giving up a job that I hate to someone else. For one, I know that they couldn’t do it as well as me.
I know the lay of the land, how you can cut the grass on that steep area by locking the differential, taking a running start, careening up the slope until the wheels are spinning and the front end starts to lift, then backing down with the brake on, trying to avoid running yourself over.
Then, doing it again. Until the slope is done.
As we get older, there’s a tendency to take things easier. I’m trying to resist it.
There’s a point when my mowing hell turns to heaven. It’s when my shirt is soaked through with sweat, the water bottle strapped to my hip is empty, my socks are filled with burrs, my arms are bleeding from limb scratches, and I’ve told the trees how I feel about them by running through every creative string of obscenities in my repertoire.
I’m hot. I’m dead on my feet. I’m dusty. And I feel undeniably real. There’s a reality to my blogging, to my meditating, to my talking with friends, to my Tai Chi, to my watching “The Daily Show.” And then there’s the fucking reality of spending six fucking hours under the July sun mowing fields filled with fucking trees that take a fucking lot of energy to miss.
It’s just so fucking wonderful.
I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. I know that there will come a day—when I’m 70, 80, 90, some day—when I can’t do this any more. But Laurel will have to pry that DR mower out of my hands. Hopefully they won’t be cold and dead.
But there would be worse ways to go. I wouldn’t mind taking my last breath holding onto the handles of my longtime DR companion, out in a hot field with sweat rolling down my face, cursing those trees.
Which, as I’m sure you know by now, I dearly love.