Monday, July 14, 2008

You grow it, I'll mow it.

Ah, mowing the lawn... or is it "cutting the grass"? Of course it is cutting the grass no matter which way you say it, but some people -- must be a regional thing -- don't say "mowing the lawn."

Well, I do. And, Saturday morning, I did.

Probably almost an acre of our lot requires mowing. When we moved here, it was mostly bare patches of packed dust and rocks, some nice moss, lots of fast-growing weeds, and a few sad scraggly patches of grass. Mowing that mess was a miserable job, but it had to be done in order to look slightly less awful. It wasn't one of those lovely maintenance-free Cape Cod moss and pine needle yards that need no upkeep because they are just as they ought to be. Ours had experienced at least a decade of benign neglect, except without the benign part. The previous owner didn't care much. Curb appeal was not a concern under Cape real estate market conditions in 2000, when sellers couldn't lose. Now, of course, you can't even think of putting a house on the market without considerable upgrading, outside and in. We thought about it a few years ago, when it seemed we might move to the west coast. A realtor all but laughed out loud at our perfectly functional but 1980s-pink bathrooms, which we have higher priorities than to redo for ourselves, but which wouldn't fly in today's buyers' market.

I digress.

Over the years, we (by which I mean Mr. S., but "we" by extension, because he would never have gotten to do all this stuff had I not been handling the gestation and subsequent general maintenance of our lovely offspring) have dug up, amended, filled, graded, turned, seeded, watered, seeded, watered, seeded, top dressed, seeded, and watered increasing areas of the yard. We worked from the house outward, so for a while it looked like there was just a bit right outside the door that was cared for -- a bit that grew annually, as if to give neighbors and passers-by some hope that someday it might all be presentable.

In our early discussions of where to plant grass vs. ground cover vs. shrubbery (if I owned a nursery, I would call it Roger The Shrubber. Tag line: "nothing too expensive!"), it became clear that we'd probably end up with a lot of grass, and that it would need cutting. S'fine, I said to my husband. You grow it, I'll mow it.

Well. That man can seed. So now we have nice grass (though not the bizarre emerald green kind that screams I CAN'T STOP! I'VE BEEN FERTILIZED AGAIN!), and I try to hold up my end of the deal.

Mowing appeals to me. Back and forth, back and forth, then when you're done things look great. I like yard work that turns off the brain. Mowing and raking are right up my alley. But sometimes Mr. S. wants the clippings bagged (what?). And sometimes our hand-me-down mower won't start. And sometimes, when it's very hot and humid, I mow for a while and then get to feeling dizzy and as if I might throw up. What a wuss! But it's true. I wilt and feel sick.

Then there are the mystery injuries. Last Saturday I did the whole front yard, no problem. Did most of the back, then had to restart the mower and it wouldn't. Somehow, in my increasing, um, vigor with the pull string, I really injured my hand. I didn't notice until later that my whole right index finger was purple. Later still, it swelled up impressively and I couldn't bend it. The swelling's mostly down as I type now, but it still hurts to touch it, and I can't use it for much. Braiding little girls' hair, for example, is out of the question, and using a pen or pencil is tricky.

We are investigating new mowers. I don't want a rider mower -- I think they call them "lawn tractors" now -- although it'd be fun to plow the driveway with it in wintertime. But we have a lot of trees to go around, and eh, even if we had space to store the thing, it just seems like too much. Walking back and forth isn't the hard part of the job, and now that it's grass instead of dust and rocks underfoot, it isn't even unpleasant. So, a regular mower it is. "So do we really need a 'self propelled' one?" says Mr. S. "Um, YEAH," I say. (Hello?!) "Why would we not want that?" The Sears catalog says the standard push mower is good for 1/4 acre or less. Even allowing for my being a bit stronger and/or less easily duped than the average Sears catalog reader, it seems crazy not to get a mower that helps more with the pushing part. Less time spent mowing means less gas burned, more time for other things. To me, it's a no-brainer. He shrugs, and comes up with his reason: "Exercise?"

I have no answer for this except, oh please. Ten years from now -- because let's face it, 1) nobody's getting younger, and 2) if the 275,000+ miles on our last car is any indication, we will not be buying another new lawn mower until the one we're about to buy absolutely craps out -- how angry am I going to be that for the sake of a hundred bucks or so, he was willing to turn a not-unpleasant chore into an ordeal, under the guise of "exercise?" The mere suggestion is maddening. I hope my silence conveys this.

Needless to say I will have to keep a close eye on the lawn mower purchase.

In the meantime, I think we've got the yard shaped up quite well, actually. We kept a lot of the moss, which I quite like. Grass, ground covers, shrubs and flowers have all been established in appropriate places. Mr. S. has worked really, really hard, and it shows. Most of the season, something is blooming. One of my favorites is a beautiful hydrangea that was barely a foot tall when we bought the place, and which took off like crazy as soon as we gave it some real soil to grow in. It has deep purple blooms: Most hydrangeas around here are light blue, pink if you lime the soil. Every year, I forget that this one is purple, and when it blooms I say "wow, the hydrangea is really purple!" much to Mr. S's amusement. I think he looks forward to my expressing surprise about it. I must seem like the proverbial sheep that's surprised by the sunrise every day. Ah well, at least I entertain him.

Come to think of it, that's also the color my finger got, after the pull string debacle.


  1. OMG - you MUST have the self-propelled mower. I have the self-propelled and I wouldn't do my postage-stamp city lot without it! Many of my neighbors have gone to the old-time reel mowers because they're inexpensive, better for the environment, good exercise, and an old-timey store in the neighborhood sells them and the owner sharpens the blades (I guess finding someone to sharpen them is the biggest deterrent to owning on of those things). I briefly entertained the idea of the reel mower, but quickly remembered the ease of the self-propelled and that idea went away.

    P.S. One of my neighbors had an electric mower that had a really long cord. He ran over the cord with the mower one day. I almost laughed. The lesson there: if you go with electric, get the cordless.

  2. A wonderful post. It reminds me of how much I like living in NYC where the city takes care of my lawn.

    Some people call it Central Park. :)

  3. Repetitive motion activities like walking and riding a bike and mowing the lawn have been proven to enhance emotional well being, it is hypnotic. I tend the lawn early on, just sufficiently to avoid being considered the neighborhood Kook, you know the one with the grass 15 inches tall, where the town comes and gives them tickets and there is all kinds of stuff hidden in that "lawn". You ought to cultivate those purple hydrangeas, that is really purple. Got a winner there. BTW, I like reading your blog, gives my day a lift.

  4. You NEED a self propelled mower. You still have to push, it's not like it will take off without you, and your lower back will thank you in years to come. I like mowing, too. It's so gratifying to see the nice, straight lines on the grass when I'm done.

  5. I remember Boo Radley's yard being described as "a swept yard that was never swept." sound like yours when you bought the house.

    Do you live anywhere near Mashpee Commons? On August 7, Session Americana plays there (see my blog). we can't go, and I need a review.

  6. Well, as usual, negotiations have stalled in "do we really need a new [whatever] if we can fix the old one?" mode. Stalled, because of course the old one is not getting fixed any time soon, but as long as the intention is there, we can't replace it.

    So frustrating. I will soon be going on lawn-mowing strike, which is maddening, because I don't even dislike it. Seems to me there are so many UNpleasant things that have to be done and/or so many things that I can't help with, that if there's something that needs doing that I actually enjoy on some level, we should make it happen. Now Mr. S. will have to do it himself -- meaning time away from his many projects that are actually progress, as opposed to maintenance. Fine, whatever. I throw up my hands. Might as well play some more Zuma.

    Hi Paul - I'm not too far from Mashpee Commons to go, but can't for other reasons. Will check it out on your blog though...

  7. Yards. Hm. We have a beautiful yard but this is mostly Bing's doing. She is responsible for the grass, I am responsible for the gardens. She must over fertilize because our yard really does look like a freakin' golf course. And we have bushes and shrubs under every window (prowler protection in Bing's opinion) and along our fence lines, so she does a lot of trimming too.

    I confess that I have never mowed a lawn. But, Bing would NEVER buy less than a self propelled mower. She looks kind of funny sometimes, flying behind it.

  8. We have a self-propelled and a titchy little garden, although when we bought it, we were on 2/3 of an acre. It's definitely much easier to manage than a manual.

    That hydrangea is gorgeous. I'm a fan of the white ones but I might be persuaded to plant one if I knew it was going to be that purple.