I have spent some time on, behind and fixing lawn mowers. I associate them with being alone but not with the loneliness that's crept behind me in my life. No, when you are on a tractor or behind a push mower you are getting something done. It's a good time for thinking some things through as well.
I do the yard here in three steps and they all yield different thoughts, moods, memories and dreams. First I trim out the yard. Much as you would when painting a room, I use the push mower to get the edges and around the beds and the fence. Sometimes, I'll take the hand-shears and hack back the grass under the fence and surrounding the poles before I pull that familiar foe, the starter cord.
I sit or crawl and marvel at the length of the fence from the low angle I see it. I think back and wonder if those fences between the fields of my boyhood are as long now as they seemed then, forever stretching out beyond the hills and woods and into the place I did not know would come.
I'll casually cut back a blue flower, a dry August weed I remember blooming quietly through the brambles. We called them "cornflowers" I think, though I can't imagine why and they are the color of the sky. As I sit and sweat, as my hand becomes a little fatigued from the thick trunks of oaklings, maplings and English Ivylings pushing up where the mower blades won't go, I think of tenacity. My mood darkens - perhaps, resolves might be a better word - and I stop and stand and the fence does go on forever, off towards town and the future, down through the hot, sticky now, and down into back pages of my mind. I finish for the time being with the shears and start the push mower.
Suddenly, I am ten again, startled at the surprise of memory. It isn't the noise of that simple little engine and dull blade that sparks it, not the exhaust or the sudden smell of cut fresh grass, so familiar, happy, evocative. No, simply, it is the red color of the deck of the mower. One summer someone on the street had found a mower without the engine and blade. I really can't remember how it happened, but, the handle had been unbolted and, for our reckless imagination, it was a little cart and it was red. Other kids found more of them, barns and sheds were abundant, and we probably had six or eight of them. We called it "lawn sledding" and I can't imagine a more dangerous summer pursuit.
No one got hurt... very badly. I think Joe lost a chunk of skin from his thigh, but he shoulda worn jeans. I think a little brother lost a tooth or two, I busted my nose and I think someone wrenched their back and still suffers to this day, but, that's not my point. We were warriors. Champions. That same energy flushes in me as I attack the lawn. Push, shove, jerk back. You can see feel the power and watch it as you win the battle with the tall grass. It is hard work, sweat drips in your eyes, salty, irritating and real. I am that boy, I am that warrior, and, and... I am this older man now still winning that battle.
I worked building stage sets in college. I was an actor, but I was frequently, uhm, uncast, as it were, in the bigger shows, the "Mainstage" productions and, if you weren't in a show, you built it. One of the adages of stagecraft is "worst first" and means simply do the hardest thing first, like the inconceivably over-designed spinning two-story piece the director called for, not the platform back-stage right. I feel that way about the mowing, once the hard labor is done, after the battle is won in the tall edges of the yard, the tractor waits.
I'd imagine all farmers are poets. Repetitive hard work, once learned, can really free the mind - give you time to think. Think about how blue her eyes really are, sky blue, kind and crinkly and full of the kind of happiness an awkward fourteen year-old can only wish at - cornflower blue, yes, that color right there, over by the woods, down by the fence. Time to think about the way that book ended, how sad I was that it was over. Time to think about the way the hot August day has just the edge of Autumn in it and how, just as that thought emerges a slightly yellowed maple leaf flutters on top of the tractor and you laugh - and hope.
On a tractor there is time to think about math, shapes and angles and curves and straight, long, important lines from one end of the yard to the other, from one end of life to another. The line is interrupted by a tree or a stick or a garden or a death or a wound or loneliness or celebration. Sometimes, the curves are slow and graceful other times, sharp and urgent. The country paths from my childhood curved slowly around a barn and a meadow and then turned immediately at a gate or creek. One turn reminds me of another, this turn led there, that one leads here.
If you don't mow on a tractor in straight lines, then you probably go in circles - a spiral actually. That's how we did it when I was a kid, how I did it until my old tractor's steering bar got so badly bent it wouldn't really turn right anymore. I liked the way it looked. I liked the change from an old way of doing things to a new one. It was challenging and those long, straight passes were like a hay field and I was, am, a poet-farmer.
Tractors are undeniably hot and uncomfortable and my knees twinge and my hands ache and my face is dirty with sweat and dust when I finally dismount. I need to finish though - finish the thoughts, finish the memories, finish the task, close up, summarize.
Me? I sweep with an old beat-up hand broom. It's not that hard, I do the front walk and the driveway and the garage because I forgot to close it and I am glad for the rhythm and the silence and the finality of it all. I know a lot of guys use these blower things, leaf blowers and the like. I like a broom. I know how to use a broom. It's quiet and forgiving and efficient and, well, sweet, somehow... old-timey. It feels light and welcome. As I sweep the grass and dirt from the steps and porch sills and drive, I let go the long poems and wistful goodbyes and hopeful longings. I see them for what they are, what they were, a lovely way to pass the time.
I am not a fan of "stream-of-consciousness" type writing, and it is not a device I much employ... except when I do. I wrote this in a damp dirty shirt and grass-stained work-shoes with a blue bandana around my head. I am not sure really why. I imagined it as a sort of mowing lesson for the boys but a toaster manual would have more advice than this. On the tractor I'd envisioned a sort of weaving past and present dream-like vibe, but this just seems like a hot mess. But, I don't care.
These are missals to my sons, love notes, letters from the past that is the now to me and you perhaps, but the past as a boy looks back, as I look back as... I don't get it.
From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear form the backseat ..."
“At indoor recess we were bowling … I was the ball.”
Well, there ya go...
Thanks for stopping by, you are always welcome but, and this is important, but... you don't always have to stay.
Nick? Is everyone gone? Listen, dude, our people do not know the ways of the weedeater. I mentioned it once in a post called "Twoodles" but it bears repeating. Avoid string-trimmers at all cost. Seriously, it is genetic. They have vexed me as long as I can remember; they have hurt me and angered me and wasted my time and money, tears and talents. Avoid them at all costs... maybe Zack'll do it for you. Oh, and guys, always wear a pair of work gloves, promise? You'll know why someday... if you don't.
(This whole post has been an elaborate ploy to justify showing this image):