July 25, 2006

Things I’ve Learned: I Mow Therefore I Am

Having recently become a homeowner, it has become abundantly clear to me that mowing the lawn is a man’s last true refuge. More seasoned homeowners may prefer chopping wood or pounding nails. But I believe mowing to be the purest masculine pursuit. For starters, mowing involves the obvious: a motor. The gnarly roar is a powerful draw from the time we first toddle upon fresh cut grass. The allure is engrained in our fabric like the color red in our first double-stitched Woolrich shirt. I contend that even the most basic mower engine stirs a mysterious sense of pride in any man who ever primed an engine; who ever yanked a start cord; who ever so much as scooped a clump of grass from a clogged side shoot with his bare hands.

Easily overlooked however, is the very premise of cutting grass. There is something perfectly primal about beheading billions of insolent blades of grass per second. It's an underrated rush. We defend our castle. The idea that we as men are sworn to uphold our perimeter at all costs is an honor. We represent the delicate balance between the overtaking of weeds and a smooth, clean carpet. Perhaps it is our love of field sports that inspires our compulsion to create the perfect yard, the idea that an epic athletic battle could break out at any moment. Or perhaps more simply the aspiration of perfection, to whatever extent we may require it.

From the time a boy is first exposed to the art of lawn maintenance, his father passes on a legacy. Dad’s not looking for cheap day labor, but rather sharing in the one true experience that makes and bonds men: the satisfaction of a smooth clean lawn. Having mowed since I could walk, I never recognized that satisfaction until I recently acquired a patch of my own. The pleasure I derive from simply cutting the grass is a weekly highlight, as is the pride I enjoy upon copletion. It’s my rite, my escape, my destiny. When we mow, we mow to our own satisfaction. We have routines, techniques even. We mow the right way, however that may be for us: in grids; in patterns; quickly; deliberately. We pick up poop. We trim. Sometimes we make two passes. We prep the grass. We water it before bed. We fertilize. We thatch. We move furniture around to even out the light exposure. We obsess over details not because of how it looks, but because we don’t know any better.

I remark in partial jest that the lawn may be the only component over which a man exercises true control. It can be the only time he is right. Certainly there are variables over which he has little or no control, but a man who mows is never wrong in the eyes of the lawn. He is not second-guessed and he need make no apologies for his actions. No one would dare take the mower out of his hands for every house has only one true lord of the lawn.

A man who mows is accomplished. The lawn is either done or it’s not. A man can grill but is constantly catering to his family's tastes. A man can set up the electronics, but only with the majority approval of all parties. A man can change a fuel belt but there’s only one right way. A man who mows however, needs only simple words to completely recognize for his usefulness: words like “Lawn looks great, Hon.” Or “Nice job on the grass, Dad.” No more, no less. When we mow, a sunburn becomes a badge of honor. Pink shoulders and backs despite the sting are actually a comfort at night.

Mowing prowess is admittedly self-explanatory. There are some tricks to the trade, but basically any idiot can do it. It speaks to the hunter-gatherer in us. We need these simple tasks to keep our strength in the absence of hunting and/or gathering. (Please note that I make no nostalgic comparisons to quick trips to the grocery store or the conspicuous, hand-written notes I require to complete my gathering mission.) Ah but mowing. Mowing is a refuge for the every man. Even guys like me who thought it would be nice to buy an electric mower because it might save the earth. Although I assure you I feel less like Bono and more like Curly Howard tripping over that cord, even THAT mower delivers the clean precision a guy needs.

I say next time you’re feeling docile, or contemplating if you’ve been having too much red meat, go out and mow something. You’ll need your own patch of grass. You can borrow a mower to start, but eventually you will need your own. A push mower, a riding mower, electric start or straight manual—doesn’t matter. Just mow the shit out of it. I promise you’ll go to bed satisfied knowing that the grass is clean, the weeds are at bay and your old sneakers, beautifully stained with chlorophyll, are grinning in the closet.