Friday, April 13, 2007
The New Old-Fashioned Mower
Last spring, when the grass emerged, I found our two aging lawn mowers frozen in the shadows of the garage, elegantly draped in cobwebs and dust. They looked like candidates for a lawn-care ghost-house. When I rolled the gas mower onto the driveway and gave the cord a good swift pull, the machine sputtered and burped a little oily smoke to signal its refusal to start. The old-fashioned reel mower, the kind with the open blades that spin when you push, was a little more cooperative. The blades turned happily enough, and as long as the grass was soft and juicy the mower didn’t mind snipping off the tops and flipping them into the air. But as for tough weedy stalks, well, that was asking too much of this ancient machine.
So we limped into autumn with the reel mower. I had the blades sharpened, but it still left the crunchier stalks standing, and when parts started breaking and falling off I put lawn care out of my mind for winter. This week, though, as blades of grass poked absurdly out of the snow, my eco-friendly wife asked me to replace the reel mower.
First, I went web surfing, checking out the coolest, most expensive mowers, fancy new fold-away models that have to be special-ordered from Germany. Next I happily disappeared for a couple of hours into the lawn and garden departments of the big box stores, looking at mowers in person. In the first store, the flimsy mowers felt like they would fall apart an hour after the warrantee expired.
In the second store, I was giving one mower a test walk when the salesman came over. The machine rolled stiffly across the tile and took some effort to push. No commission here, his veteran sales brain told him, so unlike almost every salesperson I’ve ever met, he instantly gave up. “Those things were flying out of the store last summer,” he said, “but I’ll never use a reel mower again as long as I live.” He opened the well-springs of autobiography and replayed a scene from his childhood.
Forty years ago his father tried to get him to use a certain rusty machine that stood out behind the shed for who knows how long. His old man wanted him to build his character by pushing the cranky thing, but his mother started up the gas mower for him instead. This caused a family squabble, and heated words were spoken. At this point in the story, I disengaged myself from the grips of his nostalgia and headed home.
Back on the computer, I ordered a modern new reel mower. We don’t need anything fancier, and we won’t have to pump any more combustion fumes into the air or spill any more gasoline on the ground. It’s safe enough for the kids to start mowing, too, and our eldest has calculated how much the allowance should be raised to compensate for new duties. What pleases me most about a functional new reel mower, though, is how quickly we can take up another kind of conservation.
Recycling glass bottles and paper used to seem exotic, but we got used to it, step by step. Now people with small enough yards can do without gasoline mowers. We realize we can go further and easily do more on behalf of the environment. No wonder reel mowers have been flying out of the stores. This makes me hopeful. Maybe we have a chance to gather our wills for the greater challenges of global warming that are just ahead. Alright, then, let’s start to push.