My good friend, Susan Warren, yesterday commented on her facebook that she was going out to mow and remarked that she was starting to sound like me, insinuating that I mow too much, or talk about it too much, whichever. So I decided why not embrace it, and write an article espousing my new philosophy about mowing.
I used to look at mowing as a dreaded chore, an evil two hours spent on the seat of a riding mower after a long 8 hour work day, when I would rather be enjoying a glass of wine on the deck while perusing the days mail offering of mail order catalogs. But this summer I am unemployed, recently laid off from my job of 12 years, so I began to look at mowing and the other farm chores with a renewed sense of vigor. Things I used to put off doing, I began to look at as my raison d’être.
In fact, mowing has become an activity that I enjoy, and actually look forward to. We have a 20 acre llama farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, a combination of cleared pasture and deciduous forest, and I regularly mow about 15 of those acres. I have divided the mowing into 2 hour parcels, and it takes me about 16 hours to complete the task. If I mow for 2 hours a day, by the time I have made one cycle, it is time to start all over again. I don’t mow every day, of course. Sometimes it rains, or I have more pressing obligations, but I average 4-5 days of mowing each week.
There is something very satisfying about making clean swaths of sweet smelling green, as I follow the path left by my last pass. I often like to get playful with the mowing patterns to break up the monotony, sometimes mowing horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. Last week I started in the dead center of the pasture and mowed in increasing whorls to the perimeter fence line. I found great satisfaction in the resulting crop circle formation that was visible from the front deck of the house.
But the one amazing revelation, now that I don’t look at mowing as an intrusion on my precious free time, is that it can be relaxing, like a form of meditation. I have a set of really good sound blocking headphones. I plug in my ipod and set the playlist for my favorite classical music, something like Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Within a few minutes, I am completely relaxed, the low drone and vibration of the mower, almost mimicking a continuous OHHHMM. My senses heighten as I feel the warmth of the sun and the cool brush of the breeze on my skin. I revel in the profusion of small wildlife that I stir up as the grasshoppers, crickets, tree frogs, and occasional snake scurry to avoid the whirring blades. I have company along the way, as the bluebirds and phoebes perch on the fence rails, waiting to pounce on a bug as I pass by. Occasionally I will have a brace of barn swallows pacing me, timing their swoops to avoid a head on collision with the front of the mower.
I’ve discovered that my mowing meditation has helped to reduce stress. It’s an opportunity to spend time by myself without feeling guilty about not having a job. For this summer at least, mowing is my job. It has helped me keep things in perspective, enabled me to detach myself from insignificant, yet irritating thoughts. Silencing my mind of worrisome thoughts, my mowing meditation allows my creativity to blossom.
My favorite chunk of mowing time is the mile of trails that we have cut through our mini forest. I feel like an artist swirling paint on a canvas as I carve paths along the creek banks and through the clearings. It is an ever changing palette, the progression of the wildflowers. In early spring, the ground is dusted with the delicate white blossoms of the toothworts, soon followed by the yellow marsh marigolds, (that I affectionately call our yellow marshmallows when I can’t recall the true name). And our one clump of Virginia Bluebells that we anxiously await each year.
As the spring gives way to summer, the variety of wildflowers gets bolder in color as they get taller in height. Now in July, we are enjoying the fuchsia color of the wild flox, the burnt orange of the blackberry lily, and the delicate purple of the monarda, or bee balm. Towering over all are the stems of the stiff ragweed that will eventually bloom a bright yellow flower atop a 6 – 7 foot stalk in late August.
About every two weeks I freshen up the forest paths and revel in the kaleidoscope of nature’s ever changing beauty.
So, today will be a good day for mowing. My chunk for today is the area right in the middle of our property, a 3 acre glade amongst the trees that we have named Central Park. The temps today are going to be in the low 90’s, but climbing during the week to near 100. I think today I will listen to some music from the impressionistic period, Debussey’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn”, a tribute to the doe and newly born fawn that we saw scampering across the pasture yesterday evening.
As I look ahead to the changing seasons and the evolving list of chores, I wonder if I will ever find peace with the snow shoveling. I’m thinking not. I do have my limits.