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The Mower Against Gardens


Parts of the yard are still brown from the winter, but it has already been necessary to drag the lawn mower out of the garage once, and a repeat performance will soon be due. Meanwhile, whenever I take my coffee, newspaper and pipe out to the chair on the front porch, I can count on being lulled by the serenade of spring: the distant roar of power mowers like surf on a rock-bound coast, the drowsy hum of the weed whacker, the industrious grinding of the lawn edger against sidewalk and curb up and down my street.

The mower I use is electric, so much of my time with it is spent assuring that it does not chew up its own umbilicus. The Great Circle pattern, a spiral from the periphery toward the center, has a high ratio of grass-cutting to cord-flipping. But I generally lapse into the classic straight line, turn and return in the opposite direction -- the boustrophedon pattern, from the Greek for ox (bous) and turning (strephein), the way Achilles cut the grass.

Seven years ago, in the first heady flush of home ownership, I acquired a push mower in a virtuous resolve to keep fit while shunning the pollution, noise and smell of the gasoline-powered mower. It actually saw use twice, before the tall grass, the hot sun and the heckling within the family pushed it into retirement.

There followed an ugly interval with a power mower kept in motion more by vigorous swearing than by combustion of fossil fuels. The hateful thing finally succumbed to age and scorn, and now the electric device and I labor in an uneasy compromise.

From time to time, I switch off the juice to indulge in a sense of NTC kinship with Andrew Marvell's Mower, who in "The Mower against Gardens" rails against the artificiality of the hybrids and grafts with which we clutter our gardens:

" 'Tis all enforc'd; the Fountain and the Grot;/ While the sweet Fields do lye forgot:/ Where willing Nature does to all dispence/ A wild and fragrant Innocence."

I know, I know. Even if the neighborhood would tolerate the transformation of my corner lot into a meadow that I would scythe once or twice a summer, I'd be less likely to wind up as a host to the "Fauns and Fayres" Marvell's Mower praises than to chiggers and ticks, large reptiles and lesser mammals. Eden is lost, and by the sweat of our brows shall we mow grass all our days.

Still, as I stand on the porch, watching the grass shoot up after every gentle rainfall, I think longingly: If Spring comes, can Winter be far behind?

John McIntyre is a deputy chief of The Sun's copy desk.

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