Adventures in lawn care & life north of Hwy 136

Just so you know, I kind of love mowing lawn. It harkens back to those pre-teen years when cousin Laura (Olson) Wallace and I would spend hours and HOURS grooming Gramma Olson’s expansive front lawn, orchard and sprawling east yard that doubled as a baseball field.

More than a job or task to sweat through, mowing Gramma’s grass offered a sense of pride. The clean lines. The level grass. The smooth results. Could there be a more visual example of the term: perfect?

Like a spotless kitchen, a clothesline filled with laundry or a re-organized desk, the feeling of order—albeit brief—is one of the best feelings I know!

And it’s in the grass, a perfectly coiffed lawn, where I find my greater peace . . . or at least I did.

For the first chunk of Marty and my marriage, we were “townies” living in DeWitt, Iowa, and the mowing of our corner lot was his domain. I was used to caring for big spaces with big lawns, not small, fenced-in plots of grass.

A phrase like “clipping the lawn” sounds cute and suggests a job that requires minutes, which is how long it took Marty when we lived in town. A cool 45-minutes of sauntering behind a push mower and that was that.

So when we left town and took over the old Joe Brown place, I was stoked at the idea of having a big lawn. What I wasn’t prepared for was how unruly that lawn would be!

Initially I envisioned using our push mower on the three mow’able acres that made up our four acre parcel. I saw my legs getting buff, my arms, toned, but then reality hit me. We needed a riding lawnmower and went with what we could afford, a hand-me-down freebee from Dad Reed.

That old John Deere lasted a few passes before chugging to its death, mid-job. It didn’t even make it to the end of the season. And because we lacked the necessary moving equipment, the poor thing sat in our front yard for a couple of weeks while grass grew up around it.

If Joe Brown’s spirit still hangs about our farmette, I’d like to think he and his late wife Marge find our efforts to tame their wild land humorous. I’d hate to think he’s put a curse on us.

But when you consider our history with lawnmowers, it’s hard to think otherwise. Joe Brown’s has shown to have the exemplary talent for weed growth and lawnmower extermination.

To date, Joe Brown’s has killed not one, but TWO old John Deere mowers, our once-new push mower as well as a new Poulan. And our current used Sears Craftsman looks as if it won a lawnmower demolition derby (and mows like it, too).

The serenity I used to find in mowing my parents’ and grandmother’s yards has yet to be found at Casa Reed Murrell. Who knew you could actually take smooth ground for granted, but you can. I did. Having grown up along Hwy. 30, between Calamus and Grand Mound, the ground is flat and the lawns have a near fairway-like quality.

After nine years of working to make Joe Brown’s ground behave, fighting with it to smooth itself out, Joe Brown’s ghost has been laughing his tail off.

The early years were fraught with spring thaws that would have the lawn heaving various forms of detritus: glass and bricks, car door handles and lug nuts, batteries and hub caps. The first mows of the season were very much like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.

You’d think I’d get used to the loud bang that results from running the mower over these objects, but when the blades find an old wrench and send it banging around the undercarriage and out the side, that’s a sound (and feeling) from which you don’t quickly recover.

And then there were the imaginations of our children when at ages three and six, Maclane and Moira, would take large rocks and make “dinosaur nests.” The kids, especially Maclane, were huge into dinosaurs and one day they hatched the brilliant idea of pretending the decorative river rock around the house were dinosaur eggs. They’d take these rock “eggs” and build nests throughout the yard. Sometimes at the base of trees, other times, out in the middle, blanketed by grass “so they’d stay warm.”

Imagine, bouncing along (there’s no smooth rolling), focusing on how grateful you are that the machine was actually working, only to have one’s reverie harshly interrupted by the horrific sound of large river rock being chewed up by your already-ailing lawnmower?

Nope. Not fun.

Along with this, let’s not forget the oodles of trees Marty’s planted every year. Adding to the handful of young firs already established, he’s added countless variety of trees and bushes. Between the trees already here, the stumps of trees lost and the ones Marty and the kids planted, we have exactly 95 trees (and two stumps) around which we now mow.

It’s a job requiring much patience, many hours and lots of “Marty” since he’s the only one who can get the Craftsman mower to start.

Just as I’d begun to think I would never again experience the Zen-like satisfaction of a day’s worth of lawn work, I went and got myself an early birthday present!

For the last year I’ve been sniffing around for a new (or newer) mower. But it couldn’t be just some ordinary rider, Joe Brown’s was proving to be a wily foe. It was time we got serious and until recently, it was an expense I simply couldn’t justify.

The Pat Howell quote: “Grass is the cheapest plant to install and the most expensive to maintain,” couldn’t be more true.

Tune in next week for adventures in zero-turn mowing . . .

Originally published 6 September 2014 in The Observer.