It may be an absurd, polluting and involuntary ritual, but lately I have found peace during my lawn-mowing meditations.
I am in a cloud of partially combusted gasoline fumes, lost in a poisonous chore, the world silenced by the roar of a push lawn mower that hiccups and sputters up, down and across a mangy lawn that has grown thick in weeks of rain.
It is a task, bad for the air, bad for the ears, a bow to the conforming powers of neighbors. I have hated lawn mowing since the initial thrill of being allowed to do it subsided into the ordinariness of being required to do it.
And yet, strangely, I have recently found myself getting something out of it. I have discovered the mower's high, and the fantastic journey brought on by the mundane demand of a society bent on controlling nature.
Picture it: A hot, humid spring afternoon in Lawrence. I've just been out for one of my rare jogs -- without the reward of a runner's high -- and before I have time to be comfortable again I tug open the garage door and roll out the beast, the used jalopy with the Briggs & Stratton motor, purchased last spring at a garage sale for $35.
I check the gas. It needs more. It always needs more. I don't bother checking the oil because I filled it the last time I used it, about two weeks earlier. The oil should last several mowings.
I roll the mower to the usual starting point, a patch of grass next to the driveway. I set the choke to "start," then move to the side of the machine, lean down, place my foot on the blue, broad deck that hides the blade, and I reach for the starter cord. I pull with all my might, step back, and the mower burps, gurgles, spits blue smoke, keeps going, putt, putt, putt, and I pull on the choke to give it more gas. It always needs more. It's still going, still alive, holding on to that single tug.
I stand back at first, let it be. Then the gentle gasps turn into angry rumbles, and I go deaf. Then it is just me and the mower and, moments later, the stain of fresh cut grass on my shoes.
I have seen some homeowners mow meticulous, ornamental patterns into their lawns, diagonal lines cut with straight-edges, so that from second-floor windows their lawns must look impressive. I, however, walk the pattern of least exertion, working my way in from the perimeter of our rented duplex's rectangular yard. Eventually I cut off angles to make a circular route.
I become one with the earth and sky and sun, lost in the repetitive, meditative mantra of the mower's drone. A purifying sweat coats my body from head to toe, forms thick beads that slide from my temples down my cheeks. The sun overhead is relentless and I feel the strength of my back and legs as I go forward.
I push the mower across the last patch of uncut grass, and I don't want to stop. I want to keep going. But the completeness of the job snaps me out of the trance, so I cut the engine. The silence and the stillness is cool against my wet arms.
I stand for a moment at the lawn's edge, take in the intoxicating scent. Then I need water, desperately, and a shower. But the mental journey continues with the physical contentment of labor. And the lawn, I admit, looks pretty good.