I woke up thinking about mowing. Again. This happens a lot between May through October. In my dreams, I find myself having spent what feels like several hours of mowing only to find that I have etched into the field in front of my house what looks like a UFO crop circle. Other times I have an out-of-body experience, and like a Bugs Bunny cartoon I do a “snap focus” high above my property to realize that I have spelled out “Eat at Joe’s” in the meadow in some crazy Etch-a-Sketch pattern. Except in my dreams, this would never happen, mind you, because I am WAY too organized and retentive about straight lines, composition and balance.
In the spirit of full disclosure, my fondness for mowing is the Zen solitude of the task. (I feel this same way about vacuuming—the sound blocks out everything, so the hum becomes a trance.) And in further full disclosure: it’s all about the outfit. The gear alone is like stepping into someone else’s experience and living out their perspective (think Jodie Foster acting in front of a green screen). The orange lens goggles, the ear protectors, the vest, the boots.
And the labor itself is a reward. Robert Frost said it best in his poem “Mowing.” “The fact is the sweetest dream labor knows.” Oh, who am I kidding? It’s really the outfit. This has been true of my life for 50 years now. Since childhood I have been drawn to anything that required a specific outfit. I loved judo because of the gi. I fell in love with skiing because of the boots. (My first pair were white and even in the off-season I would terrorize my mother’s floors clomping around pretending to be a storm trooper from Star Wars.) I fell in love with motorcycles because of the iconic leather jacket. (A side note: let me say this about that: at 25 I looked quite attractive in that jacket. Now at 50, with a buzz cut and a goatee, I look like a guy from a website that suggests the need for parental control software.)
Twenty-one years ago I celebrated my first Halloween with my partner Pip, and we dressed up as (wait for it…) farmers! I recall that Pip looked more like a handsome cowboy farmer, but I looked more like a John Deere farmer. (I have a big ol’ space between my two front teeth, so that makes me feel I look more ‘rural’—room in my grin for a twig of straw.) Ultimately, it’s the outfit and the equipment that draws me in.
On a recent trip to both Home Depot and Agway, I walked up and down aisles of accessories and equipment marveling at the new kinds of rider-mowers, edgers and trimmers but with a healthy avoidance of the chain saw display. (Hollywood has a lot to do with that fear, I think.) There are also so many new kinds of hats each season! Pip made a point to say that I need another hat like a moose needs a hat rack. Yet there I was bringing to the counter at each store a selection of new orange-lens sunglasses, protective grip gloves and a broad brim hat, which looked somewhere between Van Gogh’s straw hat and something you’d see poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Et voila!, this new mowing season’s outfit.
Once at home and astride my rider-mower (I have tried the zero-turn mower, and I felt like I was spinning wildly at a disco—turns out I’m an OLD-school mower rider, thankyouverymuch.), I rode off into the afternoon lulled into my zone by the muffled hum provided by my ear protectors and the world as seen through orange-tinted lenses.