Amber Waves of Grass: Mowing Season

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Mowing season has commenced here on the farm. Actually, it began on May 1 with a first mowing after most of the wildflowers had gone to seed. Clumps of skinny white flowers remained in bloom, so I practiced my zero-turn techniques by shearing circles of Bahia grass while leaving standing the flowers, exotically identified as Prairie Fleabane in the PlantSnap app. Further research indicates the Cherokee and Houma tribes boiled the roots to use as a diuretic, and as a healing aid for kidney ailments or gout. I tucked that factoid back in the memory bank should either ailment arise, and my doctor isn’t handy.

I was able to put off the second, more comprehensive mowing until the Memorial Day weekend. I donned my mowing attire — lightweight, ancient canvas pants purchased around the turn of the century and now paper thin, a shirt of similar vintage and weight, a goofy sombrero, tight-fitting gloves and leather boots. The first time I mowed this place last summer the day after we moved in, I wore shorts and a T-shirt, the floppy hat I usually wore while mowing in town, and tennis shoes. The result was sunburn so painful I spent days smearing aloe vera on my legs, arms and neck. Dumb, dumb, dumb. At least I learned from the errors of my ways.

Our farm contains roughly four acres of grass that is not enclosed by fence. The rest is either timber or rough pasture in need of improvement, one of many projects on tap this summer. At first, I had to use the tractor to bushhog about half of the unfenced portion, because it had not been mowed in a few years. I finally have tamed it to where all four acres can be mowed with the zero-turn, which cuts more than twice as quickly.

This sentiment may well pass, but for now I enjoy my hours mowing, every other weekend, with the alternating weekends spent on the tractor mowing and cleaning up the other 53 acres. I have become competent in operating the zero-turn, which has levers instead of a steering wheel and can rotate 180 degrees in whiplash fashion. I mentally get into the zone, watching the area to be mowed slowly shrink as I make passes, taking note of the changes to the landscape. A couple of sizable armadillo holes have appeared that I swerve to avoid, a new hole appeared in the base of an oak tree, gopher mounds proliferating, fire ants having a field day. I try to keep all these critters and pests at bay with insecticide close to the house but farther out just mow down their habitats, sending out clouds of red-dirt dust that I duck to avoid.

The gloves dampen the vibration, but when I stop to take a break, my hands are tingling and my legs a bit wobbly. It takes a few moments to get my land legs back after mowing for an hour nonstop. I am seriously putting a pair of noise-canceling ear buds on the birthday list. I could listen to NPR or Spotify while hurtling down the pasture. The risk is that listening to music might distract me from the task at hand and cause me to do something dumb on the mower, like slip a wheel into one of those armadillo holes.

It takes a full eight hours spread over two days to finish the job. I don’t have to be this thorough every time since a chunk of this is slow-growing pasture. Hardly any of it would pass for a manicured lawn in town. Still, there is a concrete sense of accomplishment to sit on the front porch, a cold beer in hand, and look out and note the neat crosshatched swaths of freshly sheared grass, smell the clippings, feel as if I actually got something done today.

We’ll see how enthusiastic I am about mowing come August.

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