Aug 20, 2009

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Okay, so truth be told I've had in my head for a while now a post about depression. My depression and crippling anxiety. The twin problems that have plagued me for most of my life but most especially and most effectively this entire summer. The two things that have contributed to keeping me away from writing and from much social contact and from much anything, really. In the typewriter in my head I've written the whole post out as a comparison of my mental state transposed against the state of my garden. It's not going to be the easiest post to write, but I think it needs to be said.

Just not right now.

Instead, for now, I give you:

A Tale Of Two Lawn Mowers*

So there I was, ready to cut grass. Hauled my big red Craftsman 54" deck lawn tractor out of the shed and fired it up. And promptly heard a horrific noise and felt a violent, sick-dog shaking all through the frame. Killed the motor and realised that a tiny little rubber grommet that likely costs about a nickle had torn, thereby letting a simple little fresh-air filter mounted to what would be the cylinder head on a car engine pop loose. The resulting small and well-hidden opening let oil leak out while Mrs. I cut the back yard last week and unbeknownst to her the engine ran just about empty of oil.

I'm not sure what exactly is wrong with it, not having brought it to the mower shop but my brother who knows mechanicing and has had the same problem said they will just replace the entire motor because it's cheaper than digging into it.


No biggie, tho. I asked said brother if I could borrow his mower, and he readily agreed, even giving me a tank-full of fuel gratis.

Now, if you recall, I have one of those big La-Z-Boy lawn tractors with the cush seat and the giant floorboards and all that. I keep careful care of it, drive it none too fast, even wash it occasionally. I keep the deck clear of debris, sharpen the blades regularly and spray the 'inside' of the deck with grill cooking spray to keep the grass from sticking. As a rule of thumb I also try not to run over sticks...that is, sticks thicker than my thumb.

My brother isn't like me. He's got one of those devilishly fast zero-turning-radius mowers, the kind that replaces the steering wheel with a pair of bent tubular handlebars that wrap up around you like the safety device on a roller coaster. The motor is in the wrong place (it's in the back) and it doesn't even have a proper hood. Instead what it has is a wide flat deck with a raised lip in the front that you use to brace yourself against because chances are good that at least once a summer you'll forget, twist a bar the wrong way and fling yourself arse over teakettle off it, and you need that lip up front to propel yourself away from the hellishly fast-spinning blades that are inches from your tender feet. He's also of the opinion that if you can drive over it you can cut it, and if you can't drive over it then you're not going fast enough and need to back up and get a longer running start at it.

My brother's mower is a nasty bit of business. It's never been washed. He confided in me today that in the three years he's owned it he's never even changed the oil, and that the length of aluminum pipe rattling around on the flat deck was so that I could knock the grass away from the discharge on the deck because the blades were dull and it doesn't throw the grass out like it's supposed to, so it jams. Often. And that black plastic guard that is designed to carefully redirect the grass clippings away and behind the deck? It's been gone for years. When it runs at full throttle (it only has two settings--Off and Ballistic) it picks up a sort of cyclic vibration, like something in the blade drive is just slightly warped, which sets up a resonance in your bladder about five minutes into cutting.

Now I will say this about it--it's fast. My regular grass-cutting regime takes me four hours a week. I performed the same acreage of cutting on my brother's mower in one, and first grade math tells us that with my brother's ZTR machine I'm moving 10.235 times as fast as I do on my own mower. That's crazy fast, kids.

See, that's the other thing. On my mower I know I have time to think. I'm not rocketing around the yard clinging tenaciously with my buttocks to a very slick vinyl-covered seat that would be more at home on a bicycle. There's no danger of being flung headlong over the steering wheel on my mower because it's simply Not That Fast. The ZTR? Every single turn I made had me clenching for dear life, and my yard is rough enough in patches that at the speed I was forced to travel bits of me would start bouncing with a ferocity that nearly disemboweled me at one point and I swear made me pee blood that evening.

Or maybe I ate too many beets. But I doubt it.

Don't get me wrong, it's fun, sort of. Fun like having to duck under the "Police Line Do Not Cross" tape so you can ride a roller coaster at a forgotten amusement park. Fun like smearing yourself in A-1 steak sauce and running through the dog pound. Fun like finding a motor scooter in the barn out back, shoehorning a V-8 small block into it and taking the resulting Frankensteinian monster downtown for a near-suicidal careen around the production line at the Broken Glass And Razor Blades factory.

Yes, there's something to be said for knocking three hours off your four hour cutting time. Thing being, there's not a lot of opportunity for unhurried pondering of life, the universe and everything in the fading summer heat. On my lawn tractor, safely ensconced on the huge, supportive seat I can leisurely smoke a cigar and think about things long and deeply while a very tiny bit of my hindbrain does the decision making for the driving. On the ZTR my thoughts ran more toward "Damnit I knew I was turning too hard and now I've gouged my my azalea bush," and "Oh crap did I just mow over a full-grown badger? Where did all that fur come from?" and "Holy gold-plated baby Jeebus I'm flying over the steering sticks right into the hellishly fast-spinning dull blades that are inches from my tender feet!"

Mrs. I watched me careen around the back yard this afternoon for the three and a half minutes it took me to cut the acre of grass back there, and when I'd come in and sat long enough to still the trembling in my legs and get my facial tic under control she suggested that we could take our next tax return and buy us one. Meaning I could buy a ZTR mower if I wanted to. I looked at her like she'd just suggested I shove both hands elbow-deep into the output tray at the Dirty Hypodermic Needles And Tetanus factory.

I miss my lawn tractor already. I'm just hoping I can survive the ZTR long enough to cut grass at the old office enough times to pay for a new motor for it.

And no, not a V-8.

* And there ends the literary reference. A truly clever, gifted writer would do the entire post drawing eerily clever comparisons between his story and the literary classic, but since I read it once in high school and can recall nothing of that literary masterwork except the catchy title I shan't be taking that route.

Sorry for letting you down again.

Or not.


Nancy Dancehall said...

Write what you want. I'll read anything and everything. *s*

Sorry to hear about the black edges.

Gordo said...

Ahh, Brother From a Different Mother, we have such similar lawn care styles.

Sitting on a comfortable tractor, putting along mowing the lawn is a wonderful part of my summer at the cottage. Put on my hearing protection and there's almost no chance of anybody intruding upon my reverie unless the jump in front of the tractor.

It's such a wonderful change from the decision-filled world that encompasses us that I really haven't minded the added mowing duties brought on by an extra rainy summer.

Nancy's right, you just write whatever your heart needs or desires. We'll be here.

Clowncar said...

Yeah, what they said. Write what you want. Be assured we'll read. I fight that particular bull from time to time. Isn't easy to win.

You may come borrow my engineless push mower. Of course, you'd have to quit your job, as it would probably take you all week to mow. But you'd have plenty of time to think!

I used an electric at my old house, but the new place has a postage stamp of a lawn, so I'm back to the push mower.

meno said...

Yeah, depression. it sucks.

While growing up, my mother had the peculiar idea that girls shouldn't have to use a mover.

I was happy about that at the time. But i would rather mow the lawn than vacuum any day.

Jean said...

Seatbelt. That monster contraption needs a seatbelt. Geezus.

Depression does, indeed, suck.
Hence, the poem I posted yesterday.

And when have you ever disappointed here?? Cut that out!

Irrelephant said...

You're a sweetheart, Nancy. I'll keep writing, promise that. The edges are creeping back slowly, thankfully.

Gordo, it just kills me that we're so alike and so freaking far apart! Oh! My brother's friend who keeps bees FINALLY, after four years brought us some honey. GOOD LORD that was good stuff!

Old bean, I actually used to LOVE my grandparent's old rotary mower. Granted I was also 10 and had boundless amounts of energy. If I had to cut this bit with a rotary mower...yeah, I'd likely die long before that week came to pass. *lol*

meno, I actually don't mind either mowing or vacuuming. Dishes now, I hate. And plumbing. GAH. Speaking of girls and mowers, I need to teach my little one how to cut grass before she gets a car. Heh. Thanx for the reminder!

Jean, it doesn't need a seatbelt, it needs to be made more civil! *lol* Disappointed? I don't know, you guys are all too good to me to tell me if I did. *wink*