Mow

I love to mow.

I love to mix fuel stabilizer with premium gasoline in a 4 gallon gas container. I mix it, then fill the mower so I don’t have to cut the engine once I start it. I check the spark plug and air filter each time because I love my mower. She’s a 10-year-old Toro recycler I inherited when our neighbors moved to Philly.

My front yard dog legs and wraps around a colossal Willow Oak. The Willow Oak received a buzz cut after a limb nearly landed on the dormer where my daughter sleeps. Stripped of half its limbs, it still shades our entire property most of the day. The yard slopes down to the street, like sand dunes before the beach. The unique topography makes it impossible to cut the grass the same way twice.


And that is where the love comes in.


It’s about the pattern. Do I take the hill first or wrap the tree? Do I navigate the long horizontal path or the shorter stretch that leads to the porch?

Like grill marks on a ribeye steak, patterns matter. I think I love mowing because when I am done, I get to see the progress I’ve made. When I’m done with a good class period, students don’t come to me and say, “that was great Mr. Goodson. I’ll never forget this.” When I’m done reading lapbook number 4 to my son who refuses to tire at night, he doesn’t look up and say, “Dad. I sure appreciate that you take this time at the end of a long day to entertain me before I go to bed.”

When I mow, the work of my hands reveals the progress.

 

And sure, I can be obsessive about the pattern.

When it begins to emerge in my mind, there are no other ways around it. I must take this line uphill. I must bank left here. I must round this edge there. If I don’t, the pattern will be compromised.

My boy loves to imitate. So much so that we’ve wound up with 3 toy mowers. He mows alongside me. But sometimes, his play interferes with my pattern. He stands there in my uphill line, or where I bank left, or in the edge I need to round. He stands there like the Tiananmen Square protester in front of my mower.

His play and my pattern collide.

“Move son!”

He can’t hear me over the engine. And remember, shutting the engine off kills the joy of my time.

“Buddy, you need to move out of the way!”

“No, no, no. I’m Daddy!”

“OK.” I pause. “Daddy?”

“Yes.”

Please note we are screaming to each other over engine noise.

“Please move, Daddy, so I can come through.”

“OK son, just let me finish mowing first.”

I shut off the engine. Time to re-boot. It turns out his imagination is as staunch and stubborn as my mental projection of a finished yard.


Maybe we don’t lose our imaginative power as much as we think as we get older, it just hardens into the things we must do.


He’s ‘cramping my style’ but I am over that frustration the minute I approach him. He tilts his head and furrows his eyebrows. He is in full-blown daddy-imitator mode. He points his finger. His voice drops an octave as he says, “Once I’m done mowing son, then you can use your mower.” He turns his back and continues on, Fisher-Price plastics clicking to simulate engine sound.

I laugh to myself. I take a break. I watch him and smile. My heart fills with joy.

Ain’t it true that people we love can’t cramp our style? They change our stubborn plans for the better.

 

Here is what I’m getting at.

If my son weren’t out there causing me to re-direct, I would have gotten everything I wanted from my mowing experience. It would have been perfect. It would have been boring.


It’s when what we need to do takes us from what we want to do that we realize what is truly worth doing.


I need to be a father first. I need to be a sober father first. If my son hadn’t halted my progress, I would not have been reminded of the joy he brings me—the joy we get when our loved ones remind us our lives are worth sharing.

 

It reminds me of a poem by David Yezzi. It is the first poem in his excellent book Birds of the Air. While the poet describes the art of origami, he also articulates a beautiful notion that reducing our lives leaves us with more.

I’ll leave you with the poem re-printed below with permission from the poet.

 

Crane

BY DAVID YEZZI

 

Paper creased is

with a touch

made less by half,

reduced as much

 

again by a second

fold—so the wish

to press our designs

can diminish

 

what we hold.

But by your hand’s

careful work,

I understand

 

how this unleaving

makes of what’s before

something finer

and finally more.   

 

19 Responses to “Mow

  • Taking the time to live in the moment free of our own expectations and desires. Thanks for this word today. As always it is inspiring as I need to look at my style being cramped as opportunity for life unfiltered instead of complicating my own plans. Thanks Mark.

    • Boom! Thanks for the support Kip. I always feel like putting an asterik next to posts like this that say (I do not operate like this 85% of the time, maybe %90) but on occasion, I’m able to see it.

  • I feel the way you do about mowing, about vacuuming. The marks on the carpet etc. and I don’t like anyone to walk on it right after I finish….but I’ve learned to be quiet about that. LOL “How important is it?” What a vital lesson you learned that day with your little guy out there in the yard. I could tell many stories like this one but sadly I wasn’t as fast of a learner as you were. I’m so glad your sensitive spirit listens and understands the lessons your life presents to you.

  • Children can teach us so much about life. They teach us what is really important.

  • Every time I read your work I’m left with wishing there was another page to turn. Don’t ever stop writing. It’s awesome!

  • Thank you for the caveat about 85-90%. I think I’m just getting grumpier with old age. Or maybe I need to borrow a little cutie for a while. 🙂

  • Hi Mark!
    Today, after my meeting, I wanted to write a post. But there was a person in my meeting whose depression was really bad, so I asked him out for coffee.
    I spent 2 hours with him, just talking and listening.
    And although I didn’t get my words down, I am happier for having been able to just sit and chat with him.
    xo
    Wendy

    • Wow that illustrates the point! That person needed you. More than you wanted to write it down. Wow. I’m so glad you were there for that person. That’s what really matters, after all. Thanks Wendy.

  • Robert Crisp
    1 year ago

    Excellent post, my friend. Also, when I first saw this, I think it opened with, “I love to meow.” Huh, I thought, let’s see where this goes.”I love to mow” makes much more sense, though if you love to meow, too, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

    • Sorry to disapoint Robert. I’m not much for meowing. In the morning its a growl, evenning a purrr. I was never good at those ‘in betweens.’ Thanks for stopping by man!

  • Ginger Groundhog
    1 year ago

    Always the contrarian (and not unhappy to be so ha ha) I hate both mowing the lawn AND vacuuming! Mark and Anette you have reached new heights in my estimation. I would love a small child to stand in my way as I could abandon said task and go off to play. Lesson I learnt from this post? I am still looking for immediate gratification and don’t value putting in the hard effort to get a job done well, with lines. I am a single parent working full time with a big front and back garden living in the UK where if you think about mowing it will cause a torrential downpour of warm rain to grow the grass faster. I think I miss opportunities like this because the tasks feel overwhelming to me and need to be gotten out of the way so I can get to the next thing. I hear myself as I am typing this and probably do need to slow down but that is why my dog walks are important cos I can be present for them .

    • I appreciate the honest feedback. I think delayed gratification is not something we’re born to appreciate. I think it is learned over time through trial and error, and a lot of patience. I’m an addict. I’m not conditioned to appreciate it. I have to my force myself to do not expect the reward in the instant. Teaching has done that for me. I’m laughing thinking about how your yard grows at the thought of mowing it…

  • Brilliant piece as usual. What makes this particularly poignant is the connection with the poem and your insights.

    “Like grill marks on a steak …” Love it!

    I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again, Mark: your ability to find an evocative turn of words is your greatest strength as a writer. – ddm

  • john 2flags
    1 year ago

    Really thoughtful piece MK, enjoyed reading this, made me think about instant gratification and my particular battle with that. T discription of your home, the dunes, t tree that got a buzzcut, brilliant mate

    • John! Thank you. Been wondering about you! Haven’t heard you on Twitter much. It’s real good to hear from you.

  • stepsherpa
    2 months ago

    I just like garden tractors. Eh. Yes, I am 11. I don’t know anything about maintaining a lawn even though I’ve worked on farms and cut large amounts of grass.

    I’m going to share this, this tidbit, this secret bit of me.

    I have 5 lawn tractors. I’m going to be attending Lawn Tractors Anonymous soon. That’s right, 5…. 2 John Deere’s, a Ford, a Huffy, and a Craftsman. The Ford, John Deere, and Huffy I use as redneck 4 wheelers on my property up north to cut a massive driveway/road etc.. The Craftsman is on another property here and the star of the fleet, my John Deere with hubcaps? I use here at home.

    I have learned the hard way not to put fertilizer in the seed thing and run it around the yard napalming any living organism. I don’t plant anything, at best I throw grass seed down and watch the birds eat it.

    Any reason I have flower gardens and window boxes of flowers, rock gardens, bird baths surrounded by flowers. anything like that? Anything besides what a lawn tractor will do? It’s because of my partner. She’s great at gardening as long as I keep out of it.

    • I dream of having the room one day to require a sitting mower! I used them once. Doing work for a public works department one summer. Just have one mower myself. Got it used when our neighbors moved to an apartment that had no grass to cut. It’s a Toro Recycler. I love that mower. She’s done a lot of good for me and never complained or failed to start. 6 Years now. And I don’t even know how old it was before I started using it.

      LTA. Nice sound to it. The first step is admitting we were powerless over purchasing more tractors.

  • I love to iron-because the sense of accomplishment when a simple task is completed is a great feeling. But, the memories of standing in the kitchen helping my mom fill my mind in a pleasant way. Thank you for sharing the joy of simple tasks with the intermittent interruption of family. Your grandmother Eloise, loved to mow her lawn in Woodsfield for “exercise”.

    • Love to learn about Eloise. She was such a badass. Mowing away. I feel her spirit, living in DC. I know she was a big fish in a small OH town. And DC was the ocean she loved to swim in. Thanks for dropping in with a comment, Molly. Mark gave me a great poem once, that related his joy to the smell of a freshly mowed yard, your freshly ironed cloth, no doubt. It is in the doing that we feel good, I think. We suffer from the thinking and worrying about the doing until we find it’s easier just to do it in the first place.

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