Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Mowing the Lawn

I’m one of the few people in my neighborhood who mows his own lawn. Most people seem to use lawn services or teenagers but a few of us do it ourselves.

No one else uses an unpowered mower, though, and sometimes people look at me like I must be nuts, but it doesn’t take me much longer or really any more effort to mow with such a contraption, but it does require a certain amount of presence since I can’t just roll over whatever’s in front of me. I have to pay attention to rocks and sticks and piles of dog doo.

It’s that paying attention that keeps me doing it myself. I’ve come to know our little suburban yard quite well over the years. I wonder sometimes what kind of a connection, if any, those who don’t mow their yards actually have with the flora and fauna all around. Granted my yard is not a wild place, though there is wildlife—and not just the birds that come to the feeders.

The live oaks and cedar elms are the highways of the non-winged and so they make for good observing. I see ants trailing in the bark’s grooves and places where squirrels or possibly late night rats have gnawed the wood. Sometimes there are faces in the knots of the trees depending on how the light cuts and moves across the yard. Usually there are birds in the branches: chickadees, doves, titmice.

I really appreciate those trees on our blazing summer mowing days for the shade they provide as well as how they ensure fluidity: I have to adjust my path as I approach the them, thus creating places where I miss a spot or two, where my lines are gently forced to curves. These adjustments that lead to minor imperfections really appeal to me. I love those rebellious clumps of grass for refusing to be mowed.

Getting away from the trees (but not too far—it’s a small yard) it’s not uncommon to catch sight of black-chinned hummingbirds hovering among the tiny red flowers in the tangled and overgrown flame acanthus, a plant unsure if it should be a bush or a tree, but fully invested in its effort to take over the flowerbed and tumble out over the grass.

There’s little connection with nature for most of us in our day-to-day lives, and lord knows, I know my yard isn’t some wild space, but the wild creeps in on six legs or eight or four or none (yes, sometimes snakes; fortunately none with rattles) and I love those times out cutting the grass when swallowtail butterflies flutter around the edges of the yard or when I stop to encourage a frog to be on his way or when a dragonfly seems to follow me along my spiraling path.

Mowing is a slow moving series of moments and actions, repetitive and known, and yet in that there is the awareness that there is wonder and mystery in this yard on this street where everything can seem so far removed from nature, that is until you slow down and really see. We live right on top of so much and so willingly blind ourselves to it. It’s an easy trap to fall into and sometimes a tricky one to escape.

Perhaps this is why, when I finish mowing I typically feel surprisingly refreshed.


  1. I don’t have a backyard but if I ever do and it wasn’t too big, I’d use a non-powered motor too for a) the reasons you mention above and b) the sound they make. That whirring/clopping back and forth is SO associated with summer idyl in my mind. And you just don’t hear it any more, sadly.

    • When I got it, we were in a rental with a huge backyard. It was a lot of work, but still worth it. That whirring sound is wonderful, though that reminds me I need to put a little WD-40 on it as it’s getting squeaky.

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