Sunday I decided that my yard had become too overgrown and decided to cut it.
It hasnít been cut since November. In fact, the last cut I intended to make was cancelled. My oldest had come to borrow my gas can and the three gallons of gas it contained, to ride his friendís jet ski. That was the last I saw of it. You know how kids are. I charged him for the can, the gas and his honor when it came time to disburse Christmas money.
But the yard had, four months later, begun to look something like an alien landscape. Fire ant mounds everywhere, and strange-looking plants that might be found on another world. The old lawnmower, which I affectionately refer to as the General after that Native American folk hero Gen. George Armstrong Custer, was sitting on two flats and a dead battery.
After the battery was charged and the tires inflated, I braced myself for an ordeal. Itís always an ordeal to get the General started after a long winter. His innards tend to gum up with caramelized egotism and excess amounts of crystallized pompousness. I dropped the bowl on the carburetor and cleaned it, then flipped the switch. Remarkably the General coughed, sputtered and hiccuped (smelling suspiciously like corn mash whisky) and roared to life.
Iíve found that fighting fire ants is a losing battle. Of course, we all know that. The best thing to do is run them over with the lawnmower. You might find this foolhardy and a sure-fire way to ruin a lawn mower blade. Does absolutely no good insofar as getting rid of the little buggers goes, but it certainly is satisfying.
The yard had also accumulated a healthy supply of fallen limbs. I have a few codes of behavior that I steadfastly abide by in life. Like the Duke, I wonít be wronged, I wonít be insulted and I wonít be laid a hand on. Iíll add to Mr. Wayneís list the proviso that I wonít pick up fallen limbs all winter. Gives the yard a nice, down-home cottage look. I have the same philosophy about raking leaves. Raking leaves is absolutely the biggest and most boring waste of time I ever heard of. No offense to those who rake their leaves. I admire your conviction. I rake leaves using the General. Far superior, and can be done from a sitting position.
Cutting the grass always goes in sections: Front yard east, front yard west, back yard west, back yard east. Itís sorta like block scheduling without PTA involvement. By cutting the open areas first, I was able to stop and go collect all the limbs from the uncut areas and make a nice pile in the cut areas, then I go mow the rest. So I end up with three or four nice piles of limbs Iíll go collect with my pickup truck later.
I learned to cut grass on a Snapper Comet. My grandmother would ride me on her old Snapper Comet without the blade engaged when I was a tyke. Later, when I was more responsible and she had a fair amount of confidence I wouldnít suddenly grab the spark plug wire or leap into the blade, she would let me steer while cutting grass. I only ran into the ditch once, I swear. When I was older still, I was charged with the grass cutting on my own. Sort of a rite of passage I thought. Made me feel all grown up. Little did I know that the grandparents were sitting inside with cold drinks, all smug and congratulating themselves on their wisdom.
My father was not a good example to follow insofar as grass cutting goes, as Iíve mentioned before. Nick Stouff was probably as reckless about mowing as he was enthusiastic about fishing. We had a Snapper Comet too, and when it was time to cut Ė meaning we couldnít see out of the living room windows anymore Ė heíd fire that old girl up and race around the yard in fifth gear, blades spinning, making hairpin turns that would actually till the soil until he straightened out. More than once he blazed right through my momís prized day lilies without even noticing the rain of yellow petal fragments blowing around him. When he was done, he roared into the shed where the lawn mower was stored, which coincidentally was also where the boat was kept, and traded one for the other and was gone, leaving a yard that looked something like a corn field plowed by a chimpanzee.
My own grass cutting, though, is more to my grandmotherís standards, slow and neat as I can. I have a peculiar habit, however, that Iím sure makes passersby think Iím off my rocker: I donít cut the clumps of spiderwort, oxalis or spider lilies my grandmother had all over the yard and have spread ever since. I donít cut them until theyíve bloomed and died back in the summer heat, giving the yard a decidedly paranoid appearance.
I love to run over those big, fleshy plants like thistles and those yellow flowers, though it depresses me a little because yellow was actually my fatherís favorite color, as witnessed by his close encounters with the yellow day lilies of my youth.
Biggest problem of course is clover. Clover is indestructible. You donít really cut it, you kinda just beat it into laying down with the blades. It pops right back up in a day or two and laughs at you.
It was then time to trim. We still refer to this job as "weed-eating" after the name of the first electric- and subsequently gas-powered string trimmers which quite possibly are the worst inventions in all of human history. I do own a Weed Eater brand trimmer, which fired up on the first try and performed well as I chopped four-foot tall, thick, moist weeds from alongside the house, fences and around the trees. My shoes looked like soppy green elf feet by the time I was done. But thatís fine, because I learned the hard way not to weed-eat wearing sandals.
After the cutting, I got the puppy, Bogie, out of his kennel and put him in the truck with me to go around and collect all the limbs I had piled up. Weíd drive 100 feet or so, get out, pick up the pile, get back in, and drive to the next one, then to the burn pile in the back. He thought that was just the coolest thing ever.
After that, I sat on the patio and watched the fire ants rebuilding their mounds and laughed at them for their misery. Industrious little rascals. Gotta admire them for that.