Adventures in Mowing

Summer keeps popping its head up only to be beaten back by cold snaps tenaciously reminding us that this is frozen tundra. But one thing is for sure, folks up here in the central borderlands love cold more than heat. Today’s high in the upper 70s will bring with it abundant complaints. Personally, I need as much heat as possible, so I can to thaw out from weeks of double digit subzero weather. Anyone looking for me can find me on a mower this afternoon soaking up as much sun as the sky can give.

I can’t say I always enjoyed mowing. As a kid, I spent around three hours pushing a mower around our yard. Edging usually took 45 minutes and the rest of the time I spent staring at one or the other of the front wheels ensuring that all the lines were straight. Had we applied fertilizer, the lawn would have looked like a golfing green with neat, criss-crossed lines as straight as any farmer’s row crops. At least, I thought so.

The first riding mower I operated was a Grasshopper zero-turn with a 30 inch deck owned by a campground where I worked for discounted camping fare. That Grasshopper spoiled me for other riding lawn mowers. When I drove my first John Deere lawn tractor, I felt encumbered beyond measure.

With a push mower or a zero turn, it’s easy to run a strip, turn around and run in the opposite direction, creating neat, parallel strips of alternating bright and dark green as the shorn vegetation lays down in the wake of the shearing blades. A lawn tractor doesn’t alow for that without generous use of reverse gear.

It took spending an afternoon cutting hay with a tractor towing a mower behind to learn how to most efficiently run a lawn tractor. The key is forward motion. After edging, which is a continual spiral of three to four passes, you cut a strip, slightly off the center of the main section of yard. Then proceed up the side, along the edge and just keep working in an ever tightening circle until you can no longer swing tight enough. After that, you must move on to another section and work a sort of figure eight pattern until all is cut. Make sure your last section has an area adjacent to it to allow for a wide turn, or that reverse gear will get another workout.

But using reverse gear is not the end of the world, as long as you use it efficiently. The old John Deere 212 has a standard transmission, clutch and all, and sometimes the shifter gets stuck or the transmission doesn’t want to go into gear. Resolving this issue requires letting out the clutch, just barely, while pushing the lever into the desired gear. Let the clutch out too much, and the mower will lurch forward with a grimace inducing grind. This can be especially bad when the desired gear threatens to launch you and the mower into a building, a vehicle or a giant oak. 

The newer L120 requires less finesse, but due to safety measures, you must locate the tiny yellow override button on the left side of the panel. Otherwise, pressing the reverse pedal will only result in a shutdown of the engine causing inconvenient delay. I know the safety stuff is there for a reason, but it all boils down to: don’t bother getting hurried!

But aside from the requisite maneuvering of the mower, the activity itself requires minimal cerebral activity. A good pair of headphones and some quality music, podcast or audiobook are vital for an overactive mind. As a kid, my preferred listening consisted of the same handfull of cassettes, everything from mixed tapes to pirated copies of Louis L’Amour dramatized novels. Thanks to modern technology, I get more variety in podcasts and music these days, and better headphones make life a lot more fun.

I used to run with foam earplugs with headphones over top. Needless to say, that required running the volume on full. Now, with earbuds tucked under a pair of over-ear hearing protection, I burn though fewer batteries, or in this case, my cell juice.

I kick back in the seat of my mower and just cruise. I escape into another world for a few hours with half my brain lost somewhere in Owen Wister’s Wyoming and the other half harmonizing with the harnessed power of internal combustion, steel and the raw noise of a two cylinder engine.

When it’s all done, I perch on the front porch, breathe the sweet, earthy scent of fresh cut grass and admire the result of my work while I drink a beer and contemplate my next project…whatever that may be.


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