Lawn Mower Man

Several years ago an elderly man in Baraboo, Wisconsin was hauled into court on criminal trespass charges. He had been previously warned to cease and desist his actions, but he continued to ignore the Sheriff’s warnings. His violation? After his weekly mowing of his own five acre lot he moved on to the neighboring properties and mowed their lawns. We’re all familiar with criminals who commit a crime and cut and run; this is the only instance I could find of anyone being charged with only cut and run.

I have a lawn mower man for a neighbor now. Fortunately, he stops short of mowing my property, but only by a quarter-inch at most. He jealously guards the property line which, over the years, has become quite indistinct. Twenty years ago it was a couple of young trees which are now giants. He calculates from our side of the trees’ edge and I figure that mid-tree width would be most proper. Of course, our use of the property ends a good ten feet inside the trees but that’s just too close for his glazed eyes – so we silently bear his daily scrutiny of us from either the window over his kitchen sink or slowly simmering in the doorway of his distant barn.

He’s up thrice weekly by six a.m., sharpening the mower blades and testing the grass for moisture. I can always spot Old Will, like Peanuts Pig Pen, in a massive cloud of churning dust captured within a miasma of oily motor exhaust. As he lowers his wide overall-clad buttocks into the steel saddle he whips the throttle into a frenzy and dreams of the days past when his rust-colored steed could gallop across his two-acre lawn. Now it just wheezes and coughs like a foundered old plow horse.

This week Old Will sprung for a new hat – a shiny corn-colored straw twenty-gallon pseudo Stetson, minus a hatband. I figure that he’ll retrieve the tail from the first chipmunk he grinds into buzzard-bait and dangle it over the back of his hat for flair. Old Will likes flair. He’s a proud man and God forbid the visitor that mentions that he missed a bit of grass. His grandson did that last month and Old Will sent him out to the back forty to retrieve the mare that hasn’t been ridden in ten years, but she got papers that prove she’s registered, by gum, and give the old horse a treat – let her eat grass on the lawn to show what a generous, benevolent man, is Old Will. It took his grandson an hour and twenty minutes to snare the snakey mare and being innocent of horses he had himself a frustrating time. But then, grandpa knew it would go slow. There was a reason that horse hasn’t been ridden in ten years.

As I write this essay the lawn mower man dips into the road ditch and clips vagrant green slips from the verge. I turn my head towards the road as I hear gravel being ground into sand, and I watch as Old Will dives into the grass sea until only the tip of his yellow hat bobs through the waves of two-inch deep road drift. He emerges gasping from the ditch and heads for the three-year old tree-stump he’s been trying to have our landlord remove . It bulges above his smooth landscape, wayward tiger lilies and thistles crowd both the stumps old splines and Old Will’s mindscape. He hates its presence, its reminder that he can’t tame the western lot of his neighbor, and that he can’t control the people outside his own family.

Six hours later, six long hours of mower noise, and get the hell outa here, damn dog, and fumes, and grinding, and dead little critters, Old Will drives into his barn and turns the mover off. Ah, I breath clean air again and take a short noise-free break. I know it’s not over yet. Out comes the push mover and off to trim around the house and barn he goes. No fair lads and lasses, Old Will has yet a third trick up his sleeve. The hand mowing finally finished, Old Will sits for a well earned spell and shouts encouragement to his wonderful, long-suffering wife of fifty years, Ruth, as she presents the final flourish to Will’s day well spent – the weed whacker. Smack, smash, slap, it goes as she seeks out the wayward weed attempting to strangle the grapes and the phlox.

Anything that dares to grow taller than two inches is not his concern. If it were up to him there would be no flowers, no gardens to tend, and no trees to shade the yard. Yep, Old Will’s a flat-lander, and the flatter the land the happier he is. His long day is ended, his chores are done, he goes to the barn and gently strokes the bow of his new fishing boat. And regrets that he just hasn’t found the time to put it into the water.

Originally published on the Inditer.Com July 25, 1998.  I felt it was appropriate to reprint in honor of my neighbors’ that drive two hours for a weekly shave of the lawns of their vacation homes for a 48  visit. The photo is my ‘Oh no, no mow, backyard prairie reconstruction.  Being early June, so far only the Lupines and a couple of other plants have flowered. By the end of month this will be a full palette of colors.Image

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