COUNTY AGENT GUY
Spring has swept across the prairie, shoving the ratty old couch of winter out to the curb to be hauled off by the garbage guy or perhaps by some adventurous soul who’s OK with owning pre-stained furniture.
The arrival of spring heralds the start of a new growing season. Most farmers anticipate this change with the excitement of a six-year-old waking up on Christmas morning. We have no idea what’s in store, but we’re pretty sure that it’s going to be great.
This change of seasons means that we farmers will have to switch from grousing about the cold and the snow to grumbling about the rain and the mud. In other words, it’s an opportunity for personal growth.
Speaking of growth, the lawn mowing season has officially arrived. One doesn’t need to consult a calendar to know that the lawn care season is here; all you have to do is observe the type of machinery on display in your local hardware store. It’s spring when the snow blowers have been replaced by lawnmowers.
I have often wondered: what do snow blowers do during the summertime? Do they go off to a summer camp in the Arctic where they frolic with snow shovels and ice scrapers and other wintertime tools? Inquiring minds would like to know.
Keeping the lawn as perfect as a putting green wasn’t a high priority when I was a kid. Maybe this was because our parents were too busy operating their dairy farm, which made it possible to feed and clothe their brood of eight children. I’m grateful that we kids were more important than having a lawn that looked like AstroTurf.
The first lawnmower I recall was a ground-driven reel-type doohickey that our parents purchased at a rummage sale. Its cutting mechanism looked as if it had been specifically designed to lop off careless kids’ toes. This made it all the more scary when we were informed that the mower was to be kid-powered.
My siblings and I would take turns shoving the mower across our lawn. Two of us might pair up at its t-shaped handle like a team of miniature, bipedal workhorses.
Pushing that lawnmower was actually easy – that is, until it encountered actual grass. Things quickly deteriorated when the mechanical energy required to cut grass collided with the limitations of kid power. Cutting grass, we learned, is hard. We quickly acquired a greater appreciation for the clipping prowess of herbivores.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but there was a famous precedence for using self-propelled organic lawnmowers. During WWI, President Wilson kept the White House lawn shipshape with sheep. If sheep were good enough for the Leader of the Free World, they should have been good enough for us.
Had I known this as a kid, I would have argued for acquiring a flock of woolies to handle lawn care for us. The sheep would have served the dual purposes of saving untold amounts of child labor while amending the lawn’s soil with fresh fertilizer.
We would grunt that cursed mower across the lawn until we had clipped the entire expanse or until we ran out of ambition, whichever came first. Due to our lack of resolve, our lawn often resembled a jungle.
One day, Dad went to an auction and came home with another used lawnmower. It was beat-up and looked old enough to have been used by the Pilgrims, but it had an advantage our previous mower lacked: a gasoline engine.
Eager to deploy this kid power replacement, I exclaimed that I was to be the first to operate our new/used mower. I was informed that few boys could be entrusted with such a responsibility but that I was one of them.
First I had to start the engine. All a person needed to do, I was told, was set the choke and pull the starter cord. Nothing to it.
I must have yanked on the starter rope for an hour. The motor would tease me by emitting an occasional hopeful sputter. I began to sweat like a racehorse and my rope-pulling arm was stretched by several inches.
When Dad came to check on things, I complained bitterly about the recalcitrant mower. After studying the situation, he opened the throttle and gave the starter rope a casual flick. The motor roared to life.
“See?” said Dad, “Nothing to it.”
Later, as I trudged behind the mower, I wondered if Dad had used this change in machinery to trick me into a life of lawn care.
“Nah,” I thought, “I’m not that naive.”
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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