Monday, November 28, 2011

Cuttin' Grass (From the Cleveland Post May 19, 2011)

Stepping Back, Looking Closer:

Cuttin' Grass

by K. S. Volcjak

I love to cut grass.


I hadn't done it in nearly eleven years: the division of labor that occurred after my daughter was born left that chore on my husband's list.

I got back to it this past week. I had forgotten how satisfying it was.

Consider: there is a clear, well-defined objective. There is unequivocal, non-judgmental feedback: you can't argue with that little strip you missed smack dab in the middle of the yard, but there's nothing personal in it, either.

Chaos is reduced to order. Calories are burned, muscles are strengthened. Mental equilibrium is re-established, as mowing requires just enough skill and brain activity to clear the mind and put worries in proper perspective. Personal space is created, as the drone of the mower dissuades folks from interupting someone who is so clearly working. All this, while completing a chore.

It is work, but not work as a four-letter word.

For me, taking on the chore of mowing the grass was a strike for self-determination. It was the act of someone who was tough and strong and capable and undeterred by physical discomfort.

I had every reason to never touch a lawn mower: severe allergies, asthma, and excema, all triggered by grass and heat and sweat. But I could not live with the idea of being too fragile, too delicate to venture into the 'real' world and take on this task. I most definitely had something to prove.

Starting the mower all by myself (cussing as necessary at the appropriate times, as I had observed my father do), I manhandled it around trees and up banks, watching ragged greenery fall in fresh windrows behind me. I made my contribution to the family.

And it was done when it was done. There was none of the project creep of "shoulds" and "oughts" that assaulted other tasks such as cleaning my room (I "should" clean out my dresser drawer and I "ought" to go through the junk in my closet). My job was with the mower, and when there was nothing left to mow, that was that.

Fortified with antihistamine and albuterol, I walked nearly every unwooded square foot of our family's yard in Maryland, and, later, of both my lots here in North Carolina.

In my experience, unexpected gifts often come with menial tasks. With mowing, it starts with the discovery of places on your property that you would otherwise never go. Chasing after ragged grass you become intimately acquainted with every bump, depression, and ant hill in your path. You note how the soil is sandy in the back yard but eroded down to the clay in the front. Over time, you note the changes, like how gravity is smoothing and settling sharp edges to flatten a slope. You see and feel the truth of what you know in your mind, that everything grows and changes and shifts with time.

The child in me loves rediscovering the cool, shady, out-of-the-way places. I get ideas - I could put a lovely little planting over here, or a little brick path and some monkey grass to define a sitting area over there. Maybe the children would like to claim a space as their own, to plant and build. Such planning is fun, and hopeful.

The idea of subduing nearly an acre of grass one lawn mower width at a time does seem nutty, even archaic. Surely we can come up with something more efficient. The thing is that this is really the nature of human endeavor: huge jobs, tedious jobs, taken one small step at a time. Long spaces between thinking an idea and bringing it into being.

Farmers have been walking the land like this for millenia. Back and forth, year after year. It yields an intimacy with one's land, a type of belonging, of ownership that has nothing to do with mortgages and deeds.

And that is a precious thing to me, well worth the sweat and discomfort.

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