Zen and the art of mowing the ditch

Now that the monsoon season has subsided giving us a few days to dry out before the next rain cycle begins I thought I’d better take advantage of it and mow my yard for the first time this year. That and the fact that the county showed up at my house Monday morning with a Bush Hog threatening to cut it themselves.
Now a word of explanation here. I don’t actually have anything that could be construed as grass in my yard. Except for the right of way along the road in front and the 60 degree slope leading up from the drainage ditch to the tree line, everything else on my property is shaded by a thick stand of pines and oaks. If it weren’t for the dead leaves, snakes and poison ivy, the ground would be bare.
But, because of all the rain we’ve had this spring, that 15-foot climb between the road and the tree line that runs for about 100 feet along the front had become a jungle, a thick, knee-high collection of native plants (i.e. weeds) big enough to hide an elephant, or at least a family of alligators.
So I took the county’s hint Monday and broke out the old push mower having killed my lawn tractor last season by running it up on a stump and cracking the engine block. Note to the folks at Sears: no where in the manual does it say anything about avoiding stumps.
After an hour of adjusting the carburetor, checking the oil, setting the wheel height, kicking it repeatedly and yanking on the starter cord enough times to qualify my right arm for a pitching job in the major leagues, the mower finally sputtered to life and I was off. Actually I was off to think I could tackle this chore with just a push mower.
As I began I started to wish I’d brought a rifle along in case I ran into Bigfoot.
But I slowly got into the old routine, down one row and up the other one, like Sisyphus continuously pushing that rock up the hill, in this case a 60 degree hill. But mowing is one of those mindless tasks that gives you a lot of time to think. It becomes almost a Zen-like experience allowing the mind to meditate on bigger questions like politics, religion, what are fire ants’ place in the universe and how many chiggers am I going to get as a result of doing this?
Meanwhile my musings were being interrupted every few minutes when I’d hit a patch of weeds so thick they choked out the mower, requiring me to yank that cord once again to restart it. In the end, I gave up leaving about a fourth of the task unfinished, something my wife noticed as she got home from work.
“The lawnmower got tired,” I explained.
“Lawnmowers don’t get tired,” she countered, “they’re machines.”
“Not that one,” I said, “this one,” pointing to myself.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at marusse1@olemiss.edu


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