It starts around 7:30 pm not long after the dinner dishes have been washed; when the west-facing bricks still radiate from the heat of the day, but after the sun has melted into the tree-line and the night jars call to one another from the deep shadows of the woods. Over at the neighbor’s in the unseen distance the sound of a lawnmower starting up, a wavering drone, followed by another, and then my mower roaring to life. I’m covered head to toe: baseball cap, thick gloves, sunglasses, ear muffs, long-sleeved shirt, pants, and boots. This is serious work.
I come from a short but proud line of females who love to mow. My aunt and my mother and I all find it satisfying. Therapeutic. Alone with our scattered and random thoughts. Time to work out a nagging problem; the emptiness to play out long lost or in-progress dreams. The sound of the engine, muffled by hearing protection, lulls and calms. The handlebar vibrates soothingly. Tomorrow there may be a blister or two, a development that brings great satisfaction. Maybe we just like to see the evidence of work being done: ahead of us an unkempt plot of tangled Bermuda, dandelion, Johnson, crabgrass, and clover; behind us a close shave, smooth and tidy as a putting green.
It’s been this way since the birth of suburbia. As summer twilights creep across both postage-stamp-sized lawns and rolling hilled estates, good, hard-working folks change out of their respectable clothes, heft ungainly red cans of gasoline that bang against knees; they unscrew the dipstick and check the oil with a dirty Kleenex found buried deep in a pocket; they prime and pull and pull again and the engine sputters and catches. The tops of shoes turn green, and moist, torn fragments of grass cling to pant legs. A grasshopper hitches a ride on a hat brim. Soon it’s too dark to see what’s cut and what isn’t, but we press on until every square inch is tamed and sheared. One by one the engines go silent like voices leaving the chorus. The day shutters down completely and the crickets begin to rev their motors. Inside, the oily stink of fossil fuel lingers in nostrils hours later, but open windows let in the cool green smell of grass. The sense of satisfaction, of work well done, of sweating, and toiling, and improving, even if the neatness lasts only a few days. Keeping up with the neighbors, pride of ownership, taming nature. Mediation, problem solving, novel-writing. It’s all there in the simple act of mowing the lawn.