In my other life, I never mowed a lawn, not once. In the places I lived, we hired landscape people to keep our lawns green and sharp, so as not to upset the neighbors. Lawns are important in many places. One of the things I love very much about our farm is that I got, for the first time, to mow the lawn. I mowed it at first on Florence Walrath's aging old riding mower, and when that died, I mowed with a hand power mower, like the one above.
I loved riding that smelly old thing around, I felt like a true owner of land, a real man. I don't often get to feel that way.
I love mowing the lawn, it releases some deep and atavistic feeling of strength and ownership and accomplishment. I'm finally one of the guys.
Three years ago, I had open heart surgery, and it wasn't clear if I could mow the lawn again, I took one summer off. Last year I got right back at it. In the fall I was diagnosed with heart angina – pain in the chest when certain things strain the heart.
I was able to shovel snow and lift firewood, I was eager to test-drive my angina this summer. I have had some trouble mowing on an uphill incline, even a slight one. I can't do all of it by myself any longer.
Maria and I got a smaller mower and the two of us do it together.
When my chest starts to hurt, I stop and rest. Sometimes the pain doesn't come back, sometimes it does. Angina is funny like that, it doesn't kill you but it doesn't go away either, and shows up at odd times. I carry some nitro pills in my pocket all of the time. I have never had to use one.
It is kind of neat for Maria and I do this together. I do the back yard, and some of the front, she does the sides and the corners. It takes us about an hour – we are leaving some of the grass to grow naturally. Usually, I don't have to stop more than once or twice, and only for a few minutes.
My angina is oddly selective, it lets me do most of the things I want to do. My cardiologist, who says little, urges me not to torture my heart, so I try not to.
I'm hopeful I can mow the lawn for a long time.
It is always nice to see Maria out there with her yellow (of course) mower, she is strong and killed at it. We smile at one another when we pass. We instinctively seem to know where the other is going, and we zig and zag accordingly. Red sits on the porch in the shade and watches, Fate follows one of us, then the other, she is fascinated.
I call this a Willa Cather moment, Maria is an artist through and through, but there is some Prairie Woman in her also, she loves to tackle farm chores and sweat out in the sun. I think it is a useful way for her to relax, she has no farm clothes or jeans, there is no distinction between life and art for her.
When she is mowing, she isn't thinking of the 1,000 things she ought to be doing. I think it is calming for her. She often feels guilty when she isn't working, as if she is cheating somebody.
For me (Maria is much younger) I think aging is the slow and deliberate process of letting things go. There are some things I can't lift anymore, some hills I can't climb, some lawns I can't mow. The idea is to accept this, which is an exceptionally difficult thing for many men to do, often to their detriment.
Giving things up does not make me less of a man, accepting life with grace and humor makes me better. And scream if you read me spouting old talk – "at our age" stuff – that is a killer of the spirit. At any age, life if what you make of it.
When the young clerks in the hardware store grab my bags of feed, I don't stop them any more, I thank them. I even accepted the senior discount at the movies once recently.
I can handle getting older, and I am even coming to accept that I can't mow the whole lawn by myself in the summer sun. That is not really how I wish to go, although there are worse ways. So mowing has become something we do, not something I do. And that has a sweetness and sense of meaning all of its own.