Sometimes in spite of our distracted vision, beauty blooms unnoticed. These flowers appeared out of nowhere last week blossoming from some potted plant whose name escapes me at the moment. You might understand the irony of this image if you knew me well. To state that I’m not a gardener by nature nor putterer flitting about in the yard on weekends to make things pretty would be a divine understatement. My usual modus operandi is to let nature be nature and what grows grow.
I’ve always preferred natural yards, although I will admit it’s partly from an avowed laziness to things resembling yard work, but also from a desire to let things be as they were original intended. During my youth, taking care of other people’s yards was the only way for a boy to make summer money, so I had a handful of customers for whom I’d mow yards, pull weeds, etc. Parents are always trying to instill “character” in their children through such pursuits, but I think that lesson was largely lost on me. I do remember being less than diligent in my attention to these yard duties, yet had enough clients kind enough not to fire me for at least a few weeks, so I managed to make a little pocket change.
My favorite yard client owned a riding lawn mower. Being male and of a pre-driving age, taking that baby out for a spin was the highpoint of that otherwise mediocre summer workfest. I confess to mowing that woman’s yard beyond the call of duty (as defined by multiple passes over already cut areas), just for the experience of driving something, anything. She probably knew I was over mowing the yard and why, but was kind enough not to say anything, although she would comment frequently that I seemed to use up more gas than the previous lawn boy and wondered out loud whether the mower needed tuning. Being the sharp, intelligent, inquisitive 16-year-old I was meant, of course, that these hints never found their intended target.
Even without the thrill of speed my imagination and I did our best to make the time spent atop that stinky beast worthwhile. Part of the mowing ritual was the obligatory yard search for any objects that would either ruin the mower blade or ruin the object should they have a too-close encounter of any kind. These times spent mowing for a living were long before the now-ubiquitous personal stereos so I had only my thoughts to keep me company, and always heard immediately when I ran over something. One time I missed a hose during my pre-mow yard sweep and as I ran over that hose and it wound around the blade’s shaft, choking the beast to a sputtering stop and making the coolest of noises, I knew my mower-driving days were in jeopardy. It was the only time I’d damaged anything valuable, and as I recall, the only time I mowed her lawn for free to compensate for the now-useless hose.
Through the years I did various landscape duties from laying sod to building retaining walls, but nothing as memorable as that first experience driving something with an engine, four tires, and a steering wheel. And at the time I didn’t realize those moments atop that riding lawn mower way back in the late 60s would portend a love affair with all things motorized that would last another 10+ years. But that, as they say, is a story for another day.