After writing the title of this blog post, I thought "Most people wouldn't want to." Mow steep slopes with a heavy DR Field Mower. Like I did today. At the semi-old age of 66.
But just as I said back in 2006, that mower is my sweaty hell and heaven. OK, not the same mower. I've gotten a new model. Same difference, though, as regards my love/hate relationship with it.
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.
Nine years have passed since I wrote those words. The past couple of years we've hired someone to do the major field mowing. It isn't that I couldn't still do it; I just don't want to put in the time and energy now.
I do, though, still use the DR Mower (self-propelled, walk-behind) with its lawnmower attachment to cut the grass around our house, trails through our ten acres in rural south Salem, and some small areas of high grass.
The mower needs some work. But I kind of like how it is aging with character (my goal also).
A neighbor borrowed it some years ago to cut tall grass along his driveway. I didn't give him detailed enough instructions how to use it. He got the mower home by holding down both the brake and "go" levers. The brake has been iffy ever since. Too lazy to fix it, I often walk fast downhill to keep up with the mower, and dodge out of the way when it is rolling backwards downhill.
Senior citizen fun!
The differential lock broke. I have the replacement parts, but again, haven't got around to fixing it. So I can't lock the drive wheels for more traction. Then there's the grass discharge thingie, which came off after some plastic pieces snapped off. It's held on with wire, more or less. My fix-it job must not be to factory specs, because bits of twigs, leaves, and such sometimes hit me in the face.
Solution: strong dark glasses!
Today it seemed time to tackle a couple of grassy slopes that have been an awkward 'tweener for me: big enough to make using my Stihl trimmer sort of a pain; steep enough to make using the DR Mower a challenge.
In the past, I've gotten out the trimmer when the grass became several feet tall. However, I'd been thinking that there must be a way to use the DR Mower on these 30 degree or so slopes (I have a handy level app on my iPhone which, pleasingly, is called Handy Level).
Unfortunately, I have no before and after photos. Just after. And even these are kind of a "you had to be there" deal.
Looking at the pictures, the slopes don't appear to be all that steep. But believe me, they are. The mower would tip over if I went sideways. It barely goes up them even with a 13 hp Briggs & Stratton engine and me providing some added pushing power.
On the right 1/4 of the photo is a slope by our front door that I've been mowing regularly. My big breakthrough with the rest of the slope, most of which has been cut previously with the gas trimmer, was realizing that, with care, I could mow a horizontal strip in front of the rocks, like I do with the area on the right side.
Then, even without removing the rocks, there was enough room to get a decent running start in short grass up the slope. I then could back the mower down in first gear without using the barely-usable brake much, adjust the angle of attack, and make another run straight up the slope.
It was satisfying to mow the last bit of tall grass and think, "Damn, man, you figured out how to do it!" I didn't exactly feel like DiCaprio in Titanic, but pretty close.
Brimming with tall-grass-cutting confidence, I then headed for an equally steep slope next to our driveway. It too had been cut with my gas trimmer, except for the times I had the brush cutter attachment on the mower, and the differential lock working.
Once again, success!
Maybe it was because the ground was quite dry, but I was able to get enough momentum on the flat to impel the mower up the slope. Barely. As before, I'd let the mower roll backwards down the slope, angling it as it went so some additional tall grass was cut on the backswing, so to speak.
What's strange, of course, while completely understandable, is how something that I really dislike doing is so enjoyable. I was tempted to say "satisfying" rather than enjoyable. However, there truly is a joy for me in doing something difficult and challenging.
Especially when it is physical, sweaty and needing a lot of muscle power.
I'll deliver to you your genetic potential... Look at her. She was meant to look like that. That's what nature would have carved from her a million years ago. Or she'd have been eaten.
This resonates with me. Doing sweaty, hard, semi-dangerous stuff late into life is what our ancestors did, and what many people in the world still do -- to survive.
So maybe this explains the primal "Yes!" I feel when successfully cutting tall grass on a steep slope with my DR Field Mower. It feels real, way different than working out in an air conditioned gym.
I'd miss that feeling if we ever move to a retirement community, or a house in the city. There may well come a time when I won't mind giving up my mowing chores.
For now, though, I'm pleased to be doing just what nature would have demanded of me a million years ago -- if primitive primates had a DR Field Mower back then.