Zen and the Art of Mowing

As anyone who has driven on an interstate highway knows, Ohio has a lot of corn. While some find it monotonous, I have fallen in love with the sight of vast fields of corn, waves of corn, undulating in the hot summer breeze in a beautiful, bucolic ballet. Driving down country roads, I am always reminded of the line “amber waves of grain” from the song, America the Beautiful. Except, these are “emerald waves of corn.” Yes, those fields of corn can get a little old on a long drive to anywhere in the Midwest. But there’s beauty there.

Little known fact: corn is a relative of grass. Looking out from the deck of our farmhouse, we see a vast field of corn and also its cousin, grass. A lot of grass. The horses grazing on it are in heaven this time of year, enjoying its sweet, juicy nutrients. The Sherriff, The Mayor and now Wonder Woman are meticulous keepers of the grass. If they were in the suburbs, they’d be one of those families who win the Lawn Olympics on their cul de sac. But out here, they’re not out to impress anyone. They just have impeccable standards, a beautiful aesthetic. And they love to cut grass.

Farm work is unending; every day there are dozens of things to get done before noon, not the least of which is keeping many animals alive each day. One of The Sherriff’s favorite escapes is hopping on a riding mower and setting out to cut the acres and acres of grass. He straps on the goggles and ear protectors with built-in speakers for music, fires up the machine and off he goes … steadily riding up and over the hills, occasionally doing a nifty twirl around a tree or a rock. It is a sight to behold. The Sherriff is a Zen Master, painstakingly going over the grass as if it is a sand Zen garden, creating neat, green stripes on the hillsides. It must be very satisfying. Unlike waiting over ten months for a horse to foal, this offers immediate gratification. When he’s finished, the hills stand as a testament to a job well done.

I see all those acres of grass and remember my dad surveying his acre of suburban paradise. I can still smell that freshly cut grass and hear the quiet hiss and click, click, click of the sprinkler. He loved pushing his power mower back and forth for much the same reasons, I imagine: an escape from kids, clients, everything. It was like meditation for him, a prayer. He never got a riding mower, though salespeople over the years tried to convince him. He liked the exercise that pushing a mower gave him. As he grew older, he would sit on his green string chaise lounge and admire his sons and then grandsons pushing his mower for him. He had passed the grass-cutting baton to them, but reluctantly. Nothing pleased him more than cutting the grass, then reclining to admire his work as he sipped hot tea on a sweltering summer afternoon and watched the sprinkler baptize his lawn. 

I never got to cut the grass. As I’ve written before, I was in charge of weeding the grass … and the flowerbeds … and anything else with roots. When my husband, Farmer Brown and I got married and bought our first house, it came with a lawnmower. Farmer Brown handled the lawn mowing for a hot second, but quickly grew tired of it. Watching the jungle grow in front of my house, I took the reins one day. “How hard could this be?” I asked myself, lathering up with sunscreen. 

Back and forth I went on our little plot of suburban land. Easy enough. But when I finished, I looked back and noticed there were little Mohawk tufts of grass between my newly cut rows. “What the?” It seems I didn’t line up the lawnmower correctly in my back and forth march across the yard. So I started to re-cut the grass, slicing down the Mohawk tufts. But now the grass was uneven, so I would dart from spot to spot, slicing down any irregular parts. Pretty soon, I found myself in the middle of the front yard, moving the lawnmower back and forth outward like it was a vacuum. I formed a weird kind of sunflower pattern on the lawn. “This is harder than I thought,” I muttered to myself, sweat dripping from my chins. “How did I lose control like this?”

Just then, a grandmother and her baby grandchild in a stroller walked down from the corner and stopped in front of my house. “We’ve been watching you from down the street and just had to come closer. This is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Please go on.”

“Glad to amuse you, ma’am!” I hollered over the lawnmower’s buzz. What an exasperating exercise. That’s the last time I mowed a lawn.

The grass around that house was often too long. Farmer Brown would occasionally try to tackle it in the little free time he had as a young entrepreneur. More often than not, he would recruit a willing teenager in the neighborhood to do it for us.

When we bought our forever house several years later, it had twice the size yard. When packing up to move, Farmer Brown gave the mower away. “I’m done with that crap,” he said. “I’m paying someone else to do it.”

Now we have farm property with acres and acres of grassy land. And, we have The Mother of All Riding Mowers. The Sherriff won’t allow Farmer Brown to ride it yet, though. With all those hills and fancy swivel gears on the machine, it’s a bit more complicated than pushing a mower back and forth. And for anyone who doesn’t know what he’s doing (say, us) it could be downright dangerous. Large farm equipment, sexy as it is, is not to be trifled with.

“I’m going to ride that thing someday,” he vows, gazing longingly at the Zen Master riding up and down the hillsides. I chuckle to myself every time he says it, amused by the irony. Funny how life works. I guess he was just waiting for the right kind of grass and the right kind of mower. Timing is everything.

You bet your grass there's a lot of mowing down on the farm.

You bet your grass there's a lot of mowing down on the farm.