Rockin’ a Hard Place: Finding beautiful instant gratification while mowing the lawn

Given the recent spate of glorious sunshine after a bigger spate of rain, I knew that I would soon be aboard my riding lawnmower to reduce the length of my grass. But before I did, I took a stroll around to admire a few things that sunshine and rain brought out among the blades of grass in my lawn.

I stopped and looked closely at a patch of buttercups, a true harbinger of spring. Then I looked closely at a patch of clover blossoms, equally beautiful in their short, small way. And I almost dreaded what my powerful John Deere mower was about to do to them.

Nonetheless, I knew it had to be done. On our Rock, mowing the grass is a personal obligation not to be trifled with. We have customs associated with it, and they must be strictly obeyed. Check the weather forecast; it’s embarrassing to get caught in rain —as I did that day —with the mower running. Mow in the afternoon once the marine moisture dries; that alleviates clogging the mower with thick clumps of wet grass. Re-mow if necessary if dandelion stems refuse to be sliced. Plot the yard in your head in advance. Mow the driest part first and give the wettest part more time to dry.

Wearing my sound-blocking ear protectors, I climb aboard and quickly withdraw into a realm of private thoughts and music. I am blessedly relieved of jet noise, loud motorcycles and the sound of my neighbor’s weed whacker. Songs come to my mind for reasons I don’t really comprehend. “Younger Than Springtime Are You,” “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” “When the Nightingale Sings in Berkeley Square” and “Let It Go,” that song from “Frozen.” To name a few. I refuse to wear earbuds and listen to a Spotify playlist while mowing. Too old, I guess.

As I cruise along, I always get a friendly car honk from friends driving past as the clippings are strewn on the roadway. Part of this magic is simply that it’s great to finally be outdoors again and able to be seen by people I know.

Growing up in Tacoma, I was assigned the job of mowing the yard under my dad’s tutelage. But our old mower was the push-it kind — anybody still have those? The work was sweaty, especially on the steep bank in our front yard. I found excuses to delay the mow. But that only made the grass grow more and my eventual suffering worse.

Today, I find the mowing experience quite different. It offers the instant gratification we 21st century humans demand in the efforts we undertake. Mow a couple of strips and compare them to the unmowed areas. Gorgeous. And, of course, try to be modest when a visitor tells you, “Your yard looks terrific!’

A firefighter and EMT named Lance Hodge wrote a book a few years ago entitled “The Zen of Mowing,” in which he said mowing gives a person time to reflect on life and one’s current circumstances as well as a real sense of accomplishment. I couldn’t agree more. My sense of zen while mowing is the connection between human and machine that tames nature but doesn’t destroy it.

A freshly mown yard gives me a sense of accomplishment that I imagine artists must feel when they finish a canvas or pastry chefs feel when they finish a wedding cake.

When Captain George Vancouver sailed past our Rock in 1792, he wrote this in his diary about the area around Ebey’s Prairie and Penn Cove where I live today. “The surrounding country, several miles, presented a delightful prospect, consisting mostly of specious meadows … In these beautiful pastures, bordering on an expansive sheet of water, the deer were seen playing in great numbers. Nature has provided the well-stocked park.” And 232 years later, while riding my lawn mower and wielding my weed whacker, I am doing my part to tend that delightful prospect and well-stocked park. Now if I can just keep the deer out of the roses.

Harry Anderson is a retired journalist who worked for the Los Angeles Times and now lives on Central Whidbey.