The sky is moody. Here, the towering golden cumulus. There, the open unstained blue. Now, a dark-bellied cloud creeps over the East. Then, a generous break, dotted with benign puffs. Now, again, a threat of rain. Awash in such shifting feelings, I am a wreck. But with this mosaic of emotion, the sky looks exalted.
Under this sky, I mow. I burn one zillion calories pushing our red Huskee through the grass-weeds, and not very fast. I watch as the broad burdock leaves, dandelions, and occasional blister-causing wild parsnip tidy into a yard. The curving garden beds emerge—small watermelons, hidden zucchini!
Rapid-fire efficiency is not always my forte, I have realized. I can tend to listen a little too long to a client’s stories in the exam room. In surgery, my hands move at their own pace, making sure, resisting speed. My hands do the same thing pulling weeds, washing dishes, chopping veggies, painting walls, typing, eating—not slowly, not fast.
Also, I distract. Small, lovely things distract me. Interesting sounds. Stray odors. Shiny objects. Anything funny. While I am capable of deep focus, the world is often irresistible. Mowing on this big sky day, I find myself yielding to the dark moth with yellow-edged wings. I pause for the electric-looking grasshopper, the ebony cricket, a bumblebee (pollinator), a thumbnail-sized frog (adorable).
I consider a woman in Ohio suburbia, penalized this summer by her local township for choosing not to mow. Sarah Baker simply weeded her yard, removing invasive plants and allowing waist-high vegetation to invite wildlife, until the township forced her to trim the yard to eight inches tall with a scythe. I applaud Sarah’s reinvention of her yard; we all define our boundaries in context.
I consider this farmyard last summer, with shoulder-high burdock, fringed with wild (poison) parsnip, the goldenrod, the milkweed, the thistles. How do we best coax this landscape into a healthy system?
Our farm contains the mowed and the unmowed. The large, sloping hay field has begun to regrow, after first cutting. Just beyond the grass we keep short around our garden, various plants rise quickly in the fertile soil around the wetland. The woodlot was a cow pasture until about 25 years ago, when grazers stopped keeping it short. When my dad visits, he takes “Eloise” the tractor and brush hogs our lower field, much too large an area to weed out invasive plants. In the evenings, we walk the edges, short and long.
As I mow, my ear covers mute the engine into white noise as I place one foot at a time—a walking, sweating meditation. Earlier this summer, my first hours behind this mower were stormy, with furrowed brow and muttered cursing. Heading uphill, my body bent ninety degrees at the waist just to keep moving. Both the yard and I are in better shape now. I can walk upright. I can spot fragile creatures in the grass. I can watch the sky.