Under normal circumstances, no one in their right mind would consider mowing the lawn either weird or wonderful, but life is not made of normal circumstances. And in fact mowing the lawn is not only not wonderful, it’s a sin against nature. Nevertheless, we must stiffen our upper lip and carry on with our mandate: the defoliation of our personal spaces and the disruption of their normal evolution.
My neighbors mow with an aggressive neatness that does Martha Stewart proud. No blade is left to grow longer than a quarter of an inch above standard. Each neighbor lives on an acre of sterile Kentucky blue against which an untamed edge of forest forever threatens. They mow religiously, once a week, just before church. They grab their hymnals in one hand and their gas can in the other and righteously tame the wanton brambles and locust saplings chomping at their yards. “Keeps the ticks and the ragweed down,” they insist.
I’m sure they’re right, but I subscribe to a less formal maintenance plan. I mow about once a month. And I only do about half the 3 acres my house sits on. I plant natives, they fail or take over as they are want. I use a scarifier when it gets really bad to make sure everything is taken care of, on the edges particularly. I weed the woods, removing the garlic mustard and multiflora roses as religiously as the neighbors mow their patches. I dislike telling nature how to behave. I only mow around the horse fencing. That way I can actually find the broken boards when I get around to mending, which someday I will. When I mow, I never pick up the fallen branches beforehand. I expect the blades on my mowers to cowboy the eff up and take the pain.
One of my mowers, the John Deere, just got back from Mitch’s. Mitch is the repair guy, good friend of the family. We see him a lot. The John Deere is really old and it costs us more to maintain than it did to buy it. It belches, backfires, squeals when the grass is too high to be cut in one sitting. We refuse to raise the height of the deck to give it some relief. Toughens the mower in my opinion. Mitch stands behind all his work, but he won’t give us a service contract for the Deere. “Don’t need it,” he says. “Nothing runs like a Deere,” he says, while running like a deer in the opposite direction.
The John Deere is back from Mitch’s now, belching and backfiring, cutting half the grass and leaving the rest for next time. Suits my style.
I inherited the mowing pattern of my property from the folks we bought it from. They were more like the neighbors: afraid of ticks and pollen. They mowed everything within a thousand feet of the house. Needless to say I do not follow the former tenants’ pattern.
There’s a path behind the house that goes back to the Little Northkill which lies as a boundary between us and the neighbors on the other side of the woods whom I’ve never met. The path should be mowed regularly to keep the saplings down. With my less formal maintenance plan, however, if I mow it once a year I’m lucky.
I had intended on the yearly path clearance last weekend, but once around the horse fence seemed good enough for me and I left the path for another time. Instead I decided to sit in the path rather than mow it. There’s a wild grass with a killer fragrance that grows right down the middle of it. This fragrance is incredibly strong. On warm days when I open my office windows the smell of this grass reaches all the way up to me on the second floor. I close my eyes, lean back and breath in through my nose. It warms and relaxes me.
I don’t know what the grass is or how to describe it. The best I can say is that it has a rich, nutty odor. “Nutty” is a terrible descriptor. It’s what is always used to describe something that is supposed to be gourmetish or high brow. Exceptional wine has a nutty flavor, as does exceptional grains, exceptional vegetables, exceptional spouses. The black walnuts around my house taste like grape Koolaid, so I assume the wine, the grain, the vegetables, and the husband all have that flavor.
This grass does not smell like grape Koolaid. It has a warm, savory fragrance that I’ve never smelled anywhere else and from now on will associate with warm spring days of the kind where I can open my 2nd floor office window and remember that not everyone is stuck in front of a monitor. Some people are actually out enjoying their lawns and their ticks and their multiflora roses.
Sue Lange’s bookshelf at Book View Café