The Trouble With Normal


March 4, 2009

By Roger Emile Stouff

So last weekend was “early spring yard work” weekend.
   This is putting it mildly.
   I had not, as you probably can guess, cut or otherwise tended to my yard or my mom’s yard since fall. I don’t do that, it’s a strict honor code with me. Let winter kill ‘it all, and let God sort it out, as Arnaud-Armaury, the Abbot of Citeaux, said. Who wants to do yard work in winter? Even in the warm spells, you want to be out washing the car if you have to do something not related to fishing, hunting, hiking, barbecue or boats.
   People turn their noses up at me for it, but I usually refuse to cut grass until Easter. Now, some will tell you that in past years that schedule can be stretched to Memorial Day, depending on the quality of the fishing, but I’m telling you right here that’s a dang lie.
   Of course anyone who’s been reading these twenty-some-odd inches of wild meanderings for any length of time will recall that I consider grass-cutting and yard-tending to be about the most useless, boring and needless waste of time so-called civilized man ever concocted. Raking leaves probably stands at the forefront of this. Not only is raking leaves counterproductive to the biological cycle of returning nutrients to the earth, but it’s downright loony, too. Why on earth do we – well, let me rephrase that, some of y’all – do that? They’ll decay quickly, or blow away to the neighbor’s yard and either way, it’s not a problem anymore.
   I tend to consider myself an environmentalist of moderate degree, but when it comes to swinging a string weed trimmer around, I’ll pull out the spray canister and a bottle of weed killer concentrate faster than you can say “Love Canal.” This is not my nature. This is a symptom of the pressures of civilization and culture. If I had it my way, I’d let it go “back to nature.” But no. They pass and point fingers from their cars, they stop and gawk at the clover taking over the curb, and they take pictures of the gazelles with their Fuji digital point-and-shoots.
   These are people who have no understanding of the value of fishing. Luckily, gardening is an elective, for when my father first heard that I wanted to plant a vegetable garden, he said to me the wisest words I believe I have ever heard:
   “The thing you need to remember about gardening, boy, is that when the garden needs weeding or fertilizing or picking, that’s when the bass are biting.”
   There, now, there was a scholar among men, my father was.
   Anyway.
   I’ve said most of all that over and over, but I keep repeating it so that maybe, somehow, somebody will understand, and it’ll be someone in power who will then vindicate my paradigm by declaring, “Thou shalt never do yard work again!” My goodness, it’d be rapture!
   But the Lord moves in mysterious ways. A culture that developed 2,000 years ago in a desert now expects me to mow the lawn, trim the edges and rake the leaves. Far as I can read in the Scripture, Abraham, Noah, Jonah, Moses and all those superb men were more like my father than urbanites in Le Triomphe. Yeah, try herding sheep through those gates, see what your civilized instituions’ll get ya.
   But, anyway.
   I went home after work Friday and cleaned up a lot of limbs and such still hanging around in my mom’s yard. I then came home and fired off the lawn mower – which had been hibernating since October – to get a head start on my front yard. I figured I’d get some of mine done Friday evening, finish it up in the morning, get mom’s done and Sunday, would therefore, be a day of rest.
   The mower, which I refer to as The General in honor of Gen. George Armstrong Custer, has seen better days. That’s putting it mildly. Three of four tires tend to go flat within a few hours of being parked; about a quarter of the teeth on the flywheel ring gear are ground down, and the deck is rusting out. The ol’ Briggs engine runs great, though, and have you priced lawn mowers lately? I got about three acres to cut, including my mom’s, and here’s another part of my paradigm: If yard work is a waste of money…if the fish are biting when the garden needs weeding…then buying lawnmowers is a complete and utter waste of money that could go toward a boat.
   “Why,” you are saying to yourself now, “don’t you get four new tires – three, if you wanna be that cheap – and get the flywheel gear fixed and put a new deck on it? Would still be less than a new lawnmower.”
   “Because,” I would reply to you, were you actually questioning me in such a way, “all that would amount to the cost of any of these:
   “A new, top-of-the-line Sage fly rod.
   “Enough marine grade plywood to plank a boat.
   “Several trips to the creek and one to the Smoky Mountains.
   “A guided quail-hunting trip at an Orvis lodge.”
   Gosh. Isn’t it obvious?
   But I got it all done. By late afternoon the weather was downright chilly. Sometime during the day, my front-left tire went flat, and I was all the way at my mom’s three houses down. I was stuck there, couldn’t ride it back, so I had to walk home, pump up my 15-gallon air-compressor, which is thankfully on wheels, put it in the back of the truck, haul it to Mom’s, inflate the tire, and finish the job.
   When I went to get the compressor, I was fit to be tied. I walked in the house to get a cigar and a Diet Coke and was flamin’ peeved.
   “What’s wrong?” Suzie asked.
   A spew of expletives, ungentlemanly language in the company of a lady, came unbidden.
   “Is there anything I can do to help?” my dearheart asked.
   “Just shoot me!” I exclaimed.
   True to her fast-thinking and clever wit, she asked without blinking, “Which gun?” She has come to take these conniptions in stride, you see.
   “I don’t care,” I said, “as long as it’s fatal!” I stormed out then, reminding myself that she is, after all, the anchor that keeps me sane and ever-so-slightly acceptable in genteel company.
   A hassle, you say? Sure. Worth spending a grand on a new lawn mower when I could use the money to go fishing in exotic locales? Hardly.
   (At this point my beloved better-three-quarters –she is far more than my better half! – is reading this and grinding her teeth and thinking about the half-finished second bathroom, the lousy plumbing, the lack of insulation under the house and is eyeing my rack of fly rods with a gleam of mischief in her eye, I’m sure.)
   But I got it all done and managed to loaf around Sunday when the bitter cold and howling wind came.
   Now here’s the funny thing. Now that my lawn is mown, my edges trimmed and my clover beaten into submission, nobody glances at the yard. It is no longer unique. There’s nothing rare and wonderful about it. People just pass it by without a second glance. Just another lawn in an endless stream of lawns in semi-rural America.
   Therein lies, as Bruce Cockburn pointed out, the trouble with “normal”: It always get worse.