Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Re-Kindling My Love Affair With John Deere

Before I was married, I had a sweet little house and a good-size horse barn that sat in the middle of a few acres of gorgeous, lush Tifton 44 Bermuda grass. There was grass. LOTS of grass. For a little while after I bought the place, my dad would come over with his lawn tractor and mow for me. For my entire life, my dad had done ALL the mowing of every yard our family had ever had. It was his thing, and he took a lot of pride in it, and he was stingy with it. I grew up begging to mow the yard, and was never allowed. It was just always a task that appealed to me, probably in large part because it was forbidden to me. But I watched, for years, soaking it all in.

There came a day, many years ago, when Dad got a fancy new John Deere lawn tractor, and in a display of lawnkeeper's largesse, gifted me with his old one. And I was allowed to USE it. I have to tell you that I loved mowing from the get-go. There's something just so satisfying about it--it's a chore that shows immediate results. I mean, all you have to do to see your progress is look behind you! That's a beautiful thing. And it's not like dishwashing or laundry or vacuuming or dusting, in that no one can come along behind you and mess everything up right after you finish. The grass just grows, at its own pace...maybe it grows rapidly, but it doesn't grow instantly. So for at least a couple of days, you can look out on your lawn and feel some satisfaction in what you've accomplished. I don't know about you, but that is a feeling that brings a wonderful sense of peace to my mind. If I could do the same thing for the inside of my house, I wouldn't even know how to handle all the happiness I'd feel.

Over the next several years, as Dad upgraded his lawn tractors (ALWAYS staying true to John Deer, as will I), he rotated the "old" ones through the family, one going here, one going there, which resulted in "new" mowers for me on two or three occasions. I loved it. The lawn tractor we have currently is the last one my dad gave me, and even though I lust over, and may one day own, models like this, I plan on trying to keep that baby running for the rest of my natural life. It's a sentimental thing. I mowed my yard the way my dad did: twice a week, with the blades set a notch higher than most people choose to set them. The grass stayed thick, lush, and green, even in dry weather, because it wasn't getting "scalped." I didn't give much thought to the whole process; it was just something I did.

Then I got married, and my husband moved into my little house with me. And somehow in that process, he took over the mowing. I'm not sure how it happened, though I suspect that the gateway was weed-eating and edging. I've never been good at using a weed-eater. I'm not terribly strong, and those things are heavy. Even the electric ones are unwieldy for me. My approach to weeding and edging had always just been to spray Round-Up along my fenceline, and be done with it. That left an ugly brown swath of deadness all around my yard, but I chose to believe that the gloriousness of the lawn itself distracted from that. So Alex, being a man, and now in possession of the first lawn he'd ever owned, naturally took an interest in the maintenance of that lawn, I think largely due to the lure of engine-driven maintenance equipment. Suddenly he was out there doing all those things I'd never tended to, like trimming hedges, weed-eating, edging, pruning! And somehow, along the way, he also took over the mower...probably in the hopes that this would free up more of my time for frying chicken and making biscuits.

A couple of years ago, we moved out of my sweet little house, because it was bursting at the seams. What was ideal for one person was a little snug for three. I hated leaving it, but the new place had possibilities. Unfortunately, we now live on 5 acres of rocky, barren hillside, and lush pastures are gone from my life (and the lives of my horses, which is why I'm always on the lookout for new homes for them). That anything grows here at ALL is thanks to some long-ago resident who carved, out of the rock, some flat surfaces, terracing, shoring up with railroad ties, and trucking in topsoil. So there is a lawn, and some not-too-shabby perennial, low-maintenance landscaped areas around the house, not to mention an entirely charming koi pond that came fully stocked with pretty fish. And when we moved here, Alex continued his tradition of lawn-domination.

But somewhere along the line in the last year and half or so, for various reasons (recently including being busy building various shelters for various poultry), Alex hasn't been so keen on mowing. And for reasons I still don't understand, I didn't step in and do it myself when he didn't. What was up with that? I have no idea. And just a couple of weeks ago I had a real light-bulb moment, and thought, "I have never mowed this lawn!" I was outside, the mower was right there, Alex was busy with a rented auger, boring post-holes into the rock for the new turkey habitat, and Bella was playing nearby. Ah, opportunity.

It took about 5 minutes for the love to come back. It took considerably longer to finish the yard, but it was all good. I even like the droning sound of the tractor's iPod necessary during the mowing. Back and forth, around the trees, in and out of the shade, feeling the breezes, breathing the air (this was a rare, low-pollen day) was about as zen as you can get while operating a gasoline-powered combustion engine. I think the best part of all is that in mowing the lawn, I'm communing with my dad. I'm setting the blade height exactly where he did. I'm mowing back over half of each freshly-cut swath, in the opposite direction, to pick up all the "stragglers" left behind from the first pass. I'm feeling a sense of independence and accomplishment. And I'm having a little giggle every time I mow around a tree, as I cut the wheels in to bring the cutting deck almost close enough to kiss the bark...this is an homage to my grandmother, who I'm sure already understands what I mean as she's reading this. (When my granddad reached the point at which he was no longer able to mow his enormous yard himself, Grandmom started doing it. This didn't mean that Granddad was no longer involved--oh, no. He sat out on the porch, "supervising," and calling out instructions to her from time to time, one of the most common being that she was driving the mower "TOO CLOSE TO THAT TREE". For those of you who know the women in my family, the response to this should come as no surprise--on her next pass around the tree, Grandmom would swing that mower in just a little bit CLOSER.)

Oh, AND? When I mowed over one area near the pole-barn, where, unbeknownst to me, an old woven plastic tarp had been long-buried, with grass growing on top of it? And the mower blades snagged up a piece of that tarp, winding it around the rotors and bringing the whole works to a literal screeching halt? Did I cry and call my husband, or someone else's husband, or the tractor-repair place? No, I did not. What I did was to get a sharp knife and a large pair of scissors, disengage the cutting deck of the mower, and drive it sideways onto a small hill and engage the emergency brake. Then I placed a large, sturdy planter on the downhill side, and then I heaved that sucker over until it rested on its side on the planter, and I sat down and went to work hacking away every bit of tangled mess underneath the cutting deck. It took a while, but I DID IT, and it felt good when I set the tractor right, started it up, and engaged the cutting deck and heard that smooth rumble that meant that all was once again right in the John Deere world.

When I mowed on Monday, by the time Alex got home I was just about finished. He changed clothes and came out and ran the trimmer all over the whole yard. That, right there, is just about as perfect a partnership as a marriage can have (Except--wait, I still had to come in and fix dinner then, didn't I? Yeah, we're gonna have to work on THAT.). And in the spirit of my granddad, Alex even waved me down a time or two to tell me where NOT to mow. To which I responded by going back there and mowing just a little more.


  1. Great post! I have always loved mowing. It was a very zen activity for me, especially when the kids were small and I needed some quiet time (which I know sounds crazy because lawnmowers are notoriously noisy, but they don't say "Mommy, mommy, mommy..." or "what's for dinner?").

    Sadly, I started not feeling well and came to find out I've developed a grass allergy. Rats.

  2. Is this why so many women love farming? Must be the John Deere.

  3. We need pictures of where you live now, just like the pics of your old house.

  4. To see this place, click the link in the post on "Alex continued his tradition of lawn-domination." And there's a little bit in the video from the previous post.

  5. I miss that sweet little house and that good-sized barn.

  6. It strikes me how amazing it is that we are all the product of our heritage. You have just reminded me of the parts of your that are so much like your father AND your maternal grandmother. There have been other posts that remind me of myself and at other times I see my dad (your grandfather) and yes, even your paternal grandmother. God is so wise and has such a wonderful sense of humor!

    Your Mom

  7. What a grand post! I'm assuming that your yard is rock-free, and thus you have no great scenes where suddenly half the grass behind your tractor is suddenly two inches shorter than the other half, and you discover that The Rock which made such a racket when it was mown has now bent your blade inches outof whack...

  8. I laughed as I read this. It brought back so many memories. I loved using the riding mower but hated the weedeating.
    Your Granddad would get so excited when I came too close to a tree and that made me get closer the next time.

  9. I, too, have had a love for mowing lawns. I would trade chores with my brothers as a teen, dishes for mowing with a neck massage thrown in.

    My last home I mowed 3.5 acres with my 18.5 HP Deere, we bought used. It was about 20 years old at the time. Because of the odd shape of patches of yard, it took 2 hours or more to mow.

    Still I did it. In spring and fall, it might be every 2-3 days; during the summer, it slowed to once a month. Raising and lowering the deck to get the best height. (I agree with you, mow high and often).

    You've made me nostalgic for the tractor days. I haven't missed them in several years...

  10. Lawn domination. I love it. I don't have a lawn. I live in a condo, but if I did have a lawn, Rott would be fully welcome to it being a former landscaper.

  11. When I was a kid, I never had a yard. Our apartment building was surrounded by garages for the tenants. So, when I would go out to my Grandmother's house, she would let me mow her lawn. I must have been about 8 or 9 when she first handed me that responsibility. I felt very grown up.

    Now I live in my Grandmother's house. She is long gone, but I mow that lawn twice a week and think of her, just a little bit, every time.

  12. I also love mowing the lawn, but mine is not big enough for a riding mower. But pushing is really quite satisfying. I can't do the weed eating either - what is with that? Even though I can carry it around, I suck at the right angles and getting the stupid plasticy wire to come out more.

    Great post.

  13. wow. i do love this post! who knew reading about hard work and a john deere could bring a tear to your eye? oh, i guess maybe it was the daddy part. that's a tender spot with me.

  14. Ah, the memories...My dad used to own a John Deere (he's since had to downgrade to some brand or another) and I remember begging--BEGGING--for the chance to mow the lawn. I looked forward to my first solo ride on that mower with the same excitement I anticipated getting my driver's permit. I remember him letting my nephew, only 10 months older than me, mow one summer and thinking of the injustice of it all (my feminist roots, maybe?). And then, that summer day when, finally, my begging wore him down.

    I now have a tiny postage-stamp of a yard in the city that I mow with a reel-mower, but I think I'll ask my dad to leave the mowing for me when I'm visiting in July.

  15. You and your tractor can mow my lawn anytime!

  16. I'm another one who loves mowing. I can't hear my girls squabbling with each other!

    However, the other day I had an experience that scared the bejeebers out of me. There was a telephone line that the company evidently didn't need. Instead of cutting it OFF, they just draped it unceremoniously and it blew across the yard in a storm, although I didn't know that. I was quite a ways away from it, when I hit it and it wound around the blades. I smacked the button that cut the blades and baled. I thought it was a live wire and was scared to death.

    Hubby came to "help" unwind the mess. He wandered off to get something - came back much later on the TRACTOR and I had already removed all the telephone wire from the three blade spindles. Men. Who fixes a mower with a TRACTOR anyway?

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  18. Hello Dear. I am so glad to know how you love to mow! It brings a lump in my throat.

    Oh, and the other day when I was Yelling "Watch out for those rocks!" What I meant was, "You admittedly have not mowed this particular lawn before, and based on my experience, having mowed it a few times in the past, I know that in the area that you were in there are long pieces of electrical fence wire hidden in the grass and large rocks that protrude only slightly from the ground and are mostly hidden by the tall grass until a mower blade hits one and is dulled significantly." That's all I was trying to say, sweetheart! Go ahead. Mow. I love watching a person enjoy themselves so much!

  19. Oh...My...Gosh. I have NEVER loved mowing. As a kid, I had to mow the 1 acre yard with a pair of nail clippers (or, a little push mower). You just reminded me of a funny mowing story I'll have to blog about...snickering already.

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