When we moved to our rental house in March, we inherited a front yard with grass. In Phoenix, this is mostly an anomaly. Desert landscaping makes more sense. As a committed environmentalist, I used to tsk-tsk at the golf courses and lawns, their sprinklers wafting precious water willy-nilly. And now, I was a grass person. With automatic sprinklers. According to the lease, we had to care for the lawn.
I’m from the East Coast and I’m accustomed to a green lawn. I grew up on an acre that I regularly begged my dad to add a horse to; he’d mumble something about “restrictions” and mowed instead. The little patches around the flower beds became my job, using a manual push mower. I loved it. Especially if the grass had gotten high and my swaths showed progress.
Six years ago, when we arrived in Arizona, our first home had a pointless rectangle of grass in the back yard. I convinced my husband to buy a manual push mower like I’d used back in Delaware in my youth. “Do they even make them any more?” Paul was skeptical. Plus, he liked power tools. Power Tool Paul, I’ll call him – PTP for short.
We went to the local Ace Hardware and sure enough, there was the mower. It came with its own sharpening kit. Ninety-nine bucks and I had my mower. While I was paying, I saw PTP over by the power mowers. He wistfully stroked a Husqvarna® 22-inch Self-Propelled 2-IN-1 gleaming red model.
I shook my head. “Do you really, really believe it would be a good idea to mow that silly little patch of grass with that thing?” I couldn’t keep the scorn out of my voice. Giving the power mower one last soulful glance, PTP lifted the box containing my adorable push mower and hefted it into the back of the Subaru.
Cutting the grass of our sad little plot was not the joyful experienced I’d remembered. Thick buffelgrass – an invasive species – grew horizontally rather than vertically. Despite my attempts to dig it out, it continued to impose itself onto the rectangle. The plot was thick and lumpy, making mowing challenging. Mowing in the evening was impossible, because that’s when the sprinklers went on. The only option was to get up before sunrise and work my way through the unsatisfactory chore. If I waited until the sun came out, I would turn into jerky.
When we found a house to buy a year later, I was delighted by the desert landscaping. Palms and an enormous saguaro sat in the front yard – it took me three more years to get the back looking good, planting all manner of cactus and succulents. The push mower sat unused in the garage, waiting for a yard sale. We never did have a yard sale so when we moved this spring to the house with the grassy front yard, my heart skipped a beat. I’d be able to cut the grass again.
Immediately, PTP surveyed the grounds. “Looks like we’re gonna need a power mower.”
“No, no, no!” I was adamant. “I’ll cut the grass and I’ll use the push mower.”
Our new lawn had no buffelgrass. Recently sodded, it grew lush and relatively weedless. While I cringed a little each time the sprinklers went on, I assuaged my guilt by reminding myself that all those grass clippings were heading right into my new compost bin in the back yard. Besides having a front lawn, we now have a large back yard (gravel), allowing me to finally put in a vegetable garden – hence the compost bin.
PTP shook his head. “I really think we need a power mower for this.”
“Look,” I countered, “if I’m the one who’ll be cutting the grass, then what’s the big deal? You can use your weed whacker around the trees.” This seemed to comfort him.
I hadn’t counted on the Male Thing. After I’d cut the grass a few times, PTP surprised me by volunteering to do the job. “Well, if you really want to, but you know, I enjoy it,” I said.
What I hadn’t considered was that our neighbor Ricardo was home. Apparently PTP didn’t want his masculinity questioned by the neighbors watching his wife laboring in the front yard.
PTP pushed the mower through the grass. I could tell right away that he wasn’t feeling the same exuberance that I felt. Brows knit, he pushed with grim determination. As I puttered in the kitchen, I listened to the happy whirring of the blades. Then silence. Surely he wasn’t finished yet. I peeked out the window. PTP and Ricardo were sharing beers and chatting. Ricardo never offered me a beer when I was cutting the grass.
At the end of June we left on a two week camping trip. On the way home, PTP glanced over at me in the passenger seat. “You have this dreamy smile on your face,” he said. “What were you just thinking?”
“I was imagining how I’ll cut the grass when we get home,” I said. “The first time, I’ll do my circle around the edges. Next, because I know the grass will be tall, I’ll do the diagonal. And I may have to do a third pass – that will be a diagonal going in the other direction.” I sighed with happy anticipation. PTP rolled his eyes.
As predicted, the grass was high. I intended to wake up before sunrise the next morning to tackle it. Charlie my dog would see to it. He was our wet-nosed alarm clock. When Charlie woke me up the next morning at 5:45 a.m., I gave him a chew toy and rolled over. When I did crawl out of bed at 7:30 a.m., the sun was already smiling down on the front yard.
I had to have my coffee. It was 8 a.m. by the time I made my first pass. Very satisfying. As I moved around the yard, I noticed that clumps of grass had defied me. The lawn was starting to look like the time my 3-year-old cut my 18-month old’s hair. By 8:30 a.m. I’d knocked down about a quart and a half of water. The yard was only about a third finished. I sat on the porch and surveyed my work. So far, I’d only made about three passes around the perimeter. A vast island of tall grass awaited.
It was already 97 degrees out. I went inside to find an ice pack and a scarf which I tied to the back of my neck. Glancing in the mirror, I saw that my face was beet red. Undaunted, I went back to my task. PTP came out to check on me. “Your face is glowing.” He surveyed the scene. “Maybe you’d better stop,” he said, “it’s getting pretty intense out here.”
“I always get red when I’m hot,” I countered. “Besides, I’m enjoying myself. " I took another long draw on my thermos. “Back to work!”
By this time, the yard had become a challenge. I would not give up. I thought of tri-athletes, of mountain climbers, of Olympic volley ball players. All I had in front of me was a standard-sized suburban lawn. It would not get the best of me. I soldiered on.
Soon, I was down to two islands in the middle of the yard. I tackled them one-by-one. Whoosh! One island down. The larger one had the thickest, longest grass. It took me three tries to get it looking halfway decent. With each push of the mower I felt stronger and more confident. I decided that each push must be burning off one of the cookies that I’d consumed during our camping trip (I’d eaten many, many cookies).
It was 9:10 a.m. when I finally finished. The lawn looked … awful. I was exceedingly hot. The second cutting would have to wait until tomorrow.
The next morning when Charlie the Alarm Dog nosed me awake at 5:45 a.m. I was ready. I’d programmed the coffee maker the night before. After a mug of coffee and a power bar, I slapped on my straw hat and headed out. The neighbor on the other side (not Ricardo) was already using his push mower. I think he’d decided to grow a lawn after we’d moved in – but right now he had a few sad grassy patches surrounded by dirt. I yelled a “good morning” but he was plugged into his iPod.
The pre-sunrise morning air felt cool. Ninety degrees wasn’t that bad when the sun wasn’t shining yet. I managed to do most of my first diagonal before the sun began its cheerful, incessantly blazing ascent. One diagonal down, and the yard was definitely improving. I sat on the porch and enjoyed the cool water in my thermos. I was ready for the final diagonal.
The clatter-dy, clatter-dy, clatter-dy of my mower lulled me into a meditative state. I pictured all the grass clippings mixing with food scraps and cardboard and turning into lovely rich loam in my compost bin. I imagined my soon-to-be raised beds overflowing with the shoots and vines of home-grown veggies. In my neighbor’s yard, he and his son were raking up their sparse clippings and dumping them in their garbage can. My heart skipped a beat. More than anything, I wanted to run next door and ask him for his clippings. Shyness overcame me. Maybe I could ask him before his next mowing, which probably wouldn’t be for at least two weeks.
My thrice-cut lawn looked great. With water breaks and cooling rests, the modest yard had only taken me about three hours over two days. PTP came out. He nodded approvingly. “You know,” he said, “This could have been finished in about 20 minutes yesterday with a power mower.” He’s never going to give up.
Later that day, PTP got out the 50-foot heavy duty orange power cord, plugged in the weed whacker and began edging the driveway. He looked happy. A few minutes later, the weed whacker lay on its side in the grass. PTP was standing near the fence, enjoying a beer with Ricardo.
©2011 Marilyn Stevens