Mowing the Estate

Yesterday we came home from a week at the lake. It’s never a good idea to leave home for a week in June, although we usually do. And, as usual, we returned to a lawn — or what passes for a lawn — in desperate need of mowing. (Some of you are already rolling your eyes. I know who you are and what you’re thinking.)

This is a confessional piece. I love my lawn — my huge, weedy, splotchy lawn.

If I were doing it all over again, it would be much smaller. Or, it would be a ground cover that didn’t need to be mowed with paths wandering through lush plantings and copses of birch trees where daffodils bloomed in the spring. I would be a better person for that. But it’s too late, and in the interest of cultivating my newest commitment to embrace the present, I’m going with what I’ve got.

What I’ve got is a yard that has swelled over four decades from a normal-sized farmhouse yard that abutted fields and a barnyard, where cattle ate grass in the summer and churned up mud the rest of the year, to an estate-like acre-plus. (Cue in eye-rolling. Note: I am not asking for absolution.) Estate-like in size, only. No one has ever planted or sodded this acre. No landscape artist has set foot here. If you were imagining one of those vast lawns where the mower leaves perfectly spaced parallel swaths, forget it.

Nothing here is ever parallel. And, except in odd little patches where we’ve thrown down actual lawn seed to fill in a trench dug for a new water line or an underground cable, the greenery is what you get when you mow down an abandonned hayfield, half a century later. A lot of quack grass, millions of dandelions, some strange, pale green stuff that seems to thrive in the sunken, wetter spots, and moss that’s begun taking hold under the pine trees. I don’t mow the moss. Lately, bare spots have begun appearing and seem to be growing in size and number. This troubles me when I’m mowing, but I mostly forget about them between times. I do fear they may eventually take over. Sometimes I think we should level and till and fertilize and replant. But in forty-five years, we haven’t, so I’m thinking we won’t.

A few years ago, trying to be a better, greener person, I decided to stop mowing a triangle that abuts a line of spruce trees near the road. The environmental impact of this decision is exactly zero, but it made me feel somewhat better at the time. Now a small grove of poplar trees has sprouted up there among the tall grass. Perhaps the carbon they absorb provides some compensation?

In a short story I wrote a few years ago ( I had my protagonist reflecting on how her huge yard came to pass. Although written in third person, in a transparent attempt to be fictional, it’s painfully true to fact:

When they moved here years ago, a small yard surrounded the house. Back then, she pushed an old mower that spewed out black smoke while the kids piled up the clippings to make hay for toy cows. Now, the lawn is huge, estate-like. As she circles around, she thinks about how each part was added.

First, they carved a mammoth garden plot out of an adjacent field; as the garden gradually shrank to a manageable size, they began mowing around the edges. Then, they fenced in an area near the house for their daughter’s horse; when the horse moved on to another child on another farm, they started mowing that chunk too, since they’d become used to seeing it chewed down. Twenty-five years ago, when they sold the last of their cattle, the barnyard next to the house started growing unsightly weeds, so they mowed that. Eventually, they had to tear down the old barn itself, and that space needed to be tidied up too. Now, they spend three hours on a riding lawnmower every week from May to October. Except for the mowing, they rarely step onto the grass. Their lawn has become an environmentally embarrassing objet d’art in an ever-expanding frame.

Not only do I love the yard itself, I love mowing it. (Okay, not always…) I love driving around on the riding mower, looking at my home from every angle.

From the mower, it looks perfect. I don’t notice the warped deck boards and how badly the deck needs staining, or the weeds poking up through the several bricked walkways and small patios. From this perspective, the shrub and flower beds don’t look nearly as neglected as they are, and you can’t tell that the hot tub is derelict.


I inhale the sweet smell of cut grass, the whiff of an onion as I pass over chives that have escaped the herb garden and become part of the lawn, the minty-ness in the air when I mow close to the deck, where the same mint has been growing for half a century or more and, like the chives, has encroached into the yard.

I even love the sound of the mower as I bounce along. It’s a miniature reminder of summers spent on the tractor, planting and haying—not nearly such hard work, but inviting the same reverie. I listen to the voices inside my head, sometimes talk aloud to myself, sing, and gaze alternately at the fields, the hill, and the house, feeling lucky to be here.

And later, when it’s done, I sit on the deck enjoying the quiet, and I say — almost always —we’ve just got to find a way to mow less. This is unconscionable.

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4 Responses to Mowing the Estate

  1. upleslie says:

    I can relate. But I still love mowing and leaving a nice tidy path where before there were unsightly weeds.

  2. Lee Gould says:

    I love this Paula , just love it . Thanks

  3. J. Lynn Campbell says:

    To some degree it does resemble an estate, certainly in the visual expanse it offers. It looks beautiful, and I can feel your satisfaction when finished. Reading your blog put a smile on my face…

  4. Didn’t realize there could be so much to say about a lawn. Lovely essay.

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