One of the first things that M said to me after we looked at our very first house was, “I hope you don’t mind doing all the yard work.”
I was reminded of these words the other day, as I stepped out of the door to my new house, and was confronted with a lawn, a mower, and the sneaking suspicion that she was somehow getting the better deal as the designated launderer for our household.
It is not a secret that I am not much of an outdoor person. Or rather, my version of being outside involves doing only fun activities, and keeping these activities limited to spaces that are shaded in the summer and heated in the winter. It’s not that I’m disinterested or against the outdoors. I love camping, and I’m a big fan of backyard BBQs. I’m a Spring child, and when the sun returns and there’s a great reason to be outside, I am at my happiest.
However, I’m also an allergy sufferer, in addition to being a pasty white guy who cannot tan and is not very fit, and while these problems are mild by comparison, I find that during certain times of year, and regarding certain kinds of chores, to be outside is less than desirable.
More to the point, I am usually filled with any number of flashbacks to when, as the oldest of my family, I was charged with the job of keeping up various aspects of yard maintenance. As a youth, I was instilled with a Snuffy Smith / Ignatius J. Reilly / Rip Van Winkle sort of attitude when it came to doing… well, anything. But there was little tolerance for being lazy in my family, and I have any number of memories of pushing some lumbering machine through some field of grass, coughing and sneezing as I swore and made lists of all the things that I would have rather been doing.
Once I no longer lived with my family, my experience with yard care dropped significantly, and outside of occasional houseplants that all mysteriously died under my supervision, I had very little contact with nature. Occasionally I was get hired to do some weeding, or to mow a lawn, or to work on a farm. But on the whole I managed to avoid the need to invest any energy into lawn care through living in apartments.
It’s only been since I met M that my desire to engage in the natural world around me began to develop, and I’ve made a few efforts since then to get a few houseplants here and there. While my success ratio has been very low, when I was unemployed our plants thrived, so I know that if I can give my complete and undivided attention to something as needy as a houseplant (and if I have plenty of sleep, coffee, breakfast, and lounging around before I get to this work), I can almost aid the survival of an organic being, provided it cannot make noise and does not mind being uncomfortable and unhealthy for long stretches of time.
After we first moved into The Southernmost Outpost, I was able to avoid yardwork for a while as we settled in, but eventually I couldn’t put it off any longer. However, we hit our first barrier when the mower that had been left in our care by the landlord turned out not to work. This gave me a little more time for sloth as we casted around for a mower that would start, and eventually I crossed one of the first thresholds of living in an actual house: owning my first lawn mower.
Aside from a car I briefly owned as a teenager (which I never once drove, let alone managed to start), I have never been given the care of a machine with an engine. Not that I have made any efforts to do so; I have come into the possession of a few bicycles over the years, and several computers, but never something that required gasoline and spark plugs and other components to remain in operation. Fortunately for me, I have come to discover that this particular brand comes with a lifetime guarantee, and while this brings to mind the William Shatner bit about whose lifetime we’re talking about, this is still a very big moment for me. Not only does this mean that I have to face my responsibilities head on, but my excuses have completely run out. The lawn, for better or for worse, must be mowed.
Small town life is funny, and as I began to get ready it was very clear my neighbors were all incredibly fascinated by the prospect of me mowing the lawn. I am already the gentleman who is wearing a robe and slippers to take out the trash, or to check the mail, and my bow ties and sweaters have sealed my reputation as someone who is exactly as bookish as I appear. As I began to clear debris, contend with a dead squirrel, and survey the work ahead of me, my neighbors all stopped what they were doing, procured light beers to put in a cozy, and leaned against something nearby to watch.
If there’s anything more uncomfortable than taking on a task that you are not excited about and don’t really have any skill for, it is being watched by small town neighbors while they drink beer. I did my best to politely engage them, by saying, “Hi,” and nodding in their direction from time to time, but getting a response was just not in the cards. They stood, hypnotized by a middle aged nerd mowing a lawn, and it sent a chill up and down my spine that was a bit hard to shake.
In the end, I managed to finish without any major problems or hiccups, and I think the results came out pretty good, all things considered. At least, everything looks okay, and no one is glaring at me for an unkempt lawn.
What’s particularly interesting to me, though, is that it didn’t take long to become guilty of the same thing I was worried about. Now, I’m the one looking at my neighbor’s lawns, shaking my head when it gets out of control. In the last month I’ve already mowed twice, and as I was coming home from work yesterday, I found myself saying, “It looks like our lawn’s getting a little shaggy again.” This last weekend we not only bought a hose, but a rake and broom, too, and I’ve been eying various plants that I can put in pots throughout the yard.
How, exactly, I came to this particular situation is still a mystery to me. I still hate chores, and I’m not really the kind of person who spends time in my yard. But there is something about having a nice lawn and being attentive to the home you live in that I had never experienced before. This is probably one of those “growing up” moments that many people experience at much earlier ages, but I have only just begun to see the connection between my environment and my own well-being, in a non-physical sense. The lesson I have learned this time around is that my house is an extension of our life together, and the need to take care of the lawn is sort of like the need to take care of my hair. It’s a self-esteem thing, more than anything else.