I might as well start with a confession. I’m on the other side of 65 and until this summer had never mowed a lawn. Never. In. My. Life.

Not in my youth in suburban Chicago. Not in my New Jersey-centered suburban life nor at the revered second home.

I hardly thought I’d start now. But I did.

It isn’t a big lawn, snuggled within the borders of my 25’x45′ garden. 

Photo credit: Jane Trombley

But it’s enough. Enough to unlock the value of the experience. And, as a writer, to connect with the zen of it all.

I’m not the first to capture this insight.

Frank McKinley wrote a brilliant and funny piece this spring, engaged with a far more arduous task: a much, much bigger lawn.

But the sense of it is the same. Whether you spend 6 hours, as in Frank’s case, or less than one hour, in my case. And that includes trimming.

Frank talked about mowing and writing. I’m taking the broader view.

I’ve found that mowing is totally zen. Even with an electric (battery operated) mower, the slope of my property, with a five-foot drop, demands concentration.

Sure, we writers can think about writing, and I agree with the analogies Frank draws.

But you needn’t be a writer or have author-like ambitions to get into and enjoy, the zen of the mowing moment.

Firstly, there’s there’s the machine.

Since I was new to the lawn mowing experience, I had no idea what kind of mower to buy. I knew I needed an assist on the up/down paths so the old-fashioned clip, clip, clip mower wouldn’t work for me. I found this baby, and and it has worked like a charm.

Photo credit: Jane Trombley

I will confess I bought this mower based on a single review that seemed custom made for me. To paraphrase:

I’m a woman in my late 60’s, and I see no reason to pay someone to mow my grass. This mower is easy to manage…..

Done. Sold. Total mower karma.

Why is the bag-emptying so rewarding?

I don’t know, but it is. I allow the grass to grow to about four inches before cutting, so the bag fills quickly.

It is so cathartic to empty the bag back of cuttings behind the fence, out of harm’s way (by that I mean the crabgrass cuttings).

Then re-attach and continue on. It’s also tidy at the end, a reward for a hot job.

Today, in the middle of a series of heat waves, interrupted by a string of torrential rains, the grass was long and lush. Cutting it, moving up and down the length of the lawn, emptying the bag, was so satisfying.

I wish I could say why.

Maybe it is the repetitive motion, the “at-one-ness” with a bit of nature, even the sweat. streaming down my back, that makes me feel connected to something beyond myself

I don’t know. Suffice to say it is. The concentration, the smallish space, the focus. It’s very zen.

The trimmers

Photo credit: Jane Trombley

These long shears are fun. It takes about twenty minutes to zip around the perimeter of the grass, where the mower can’t reach lest it scratch the metal edging.

They are brutally sharp. So it takes concentration (and closed shoes) to make sure nothing untoward gets between the blades.

Using these shears can take longer, to trim around the bluestone walk. Talk about zen.

The Upshot

Any sort of garden maintenance is zen-by-design. But what is great about the zen of mowing is that you can extract value, as the Economists say, from a rather mundane, often hot and sticky, crappy chore.

It’s all in how you look at it. There is a zen moment lurking in lawn mowing. You just need to unlock that genuine value.


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