Saturday, May 2, 2009


I love to mow the lawn. I do! I never thought I would say such a thing, especially knowing it is on a riding mower that I experience this, but I admit it.

Now, before you go imagining me on a smooth, new, shining, John Deere mower, back up! It's, um, I don't know what color it is, but it's OLD! Really old. One wheel is bent off in a different direction, and the thing has to be jump-started from our car. After jump-starting, I have to sit on it and pull out and push in the choke about 20 times before it will stay running. The entire time it's belching exhaust, and making me cringe with the waste, the noise pollution, and the sheer ugliness of the entire affair. The seat is cracked and cut open in several places, which causes the foam inside to absorb moisture, which is then released against my rear, making it appear that I've wet my pants. The plastic also pokes into me, so I have to wear sturdy material. The steering is iffy; it gets quite temperamental about which way it wants to go, and there is no such thing as a tight turn. Shifting from one "gear" to another is funny too. The numbers go from 1-7, but they all seem about the same for the first 7 seconds or so, and then it will slowly begin to recognize that I've asked it to change speed. Reverse works... sometimes.

Today the blades were making a sound that indicated a loose bolt somewhere. I turned up my i-pod and kept mowing, just hoping and pushing for just one more loop around the yard, and then another, and another.

This is the sort of mechanical object that would have sent my dad into paroxysms of cursing. He can swear like nobody's business at inanimate objects, and this one would have been a prime target. I'm a lot like my dad, ordinarily, but with a few exceptions, this mower has earned nothing but my affection. When it quits half way through (and it does; repeatedly) I just climb off and leave it there and find something else to do, completely unruffled by its sudden refusal to operate. Doug will fix it. I am serene about this.

I won't drive a car that has a hole in the exhaust, a broken mirror, a smashed fender, or a cracked windshield. I shudder to think I could be seen in a "junker", the likes of which an ex-boyfriend from high school might have driven. But I love that mower.

Mowing, for me, is this: I wear what pleases me. Some days a bathing suit top and shorts, with grass-stained running shoes. Other days rain boots and cargo pants with a sweatshirt. Cowboy hat, or floppy beach hat. Later afternoon mowing includes a bottle of my favorite beer between my knees. Add my i-pod and headphones, turned up louder than the mower, destroying my eardrums. The mower bounces around on our bumpy, mole-ridden yard, and I bounce with it. I clench my stomach muscles to avoid back problems, per Dad's warning. My mower kicks up bugs, and behind me, the barn swallows swoop and dive, their backs flashing iridescent blue in the sunlight, while the hawks watch from above. I slow to a stop for a plump and fuzzy bumblebee, waiting for it to move on from its dandelion. I mourn each wildflower/weed that falls to my blades. I challenge myself to get as close to our little trees as possible, so that Doug will be impressed when he goes to use the edger/weed whacker.

I see neighbors drive by and their heads turn. I wave, or pretend not to see them. But I do wonder, what are they thinking of me? I'm usually grinning in the sun or singing out of tune (due to the headphones) at the tops of my lungs. I even have a "mowing mix" on my i-pod. Certain songs are good for running, and others are good for mowing.

Sometimes I have conversations in my head with people who badly need to hear what I have to say. It can be very satisfying.

Mowing is a time entirely to myself. I cannot hear anyone else, and no one tries to communicate with me, short of Tansy, who keeps her distance, with a mournful look to say she wishes I'd stop the awful noise... because, did I mention how incredibly LOUD this mower is?

The entire time I am out there I am thinking how silly mowing is in the first place, and how much happier I would be to let it all grow in naturally, or to plant wildflowers, but I do the mowing because it is What Is Done. The Thing To Do. Every year I try to shrink the yard by a few feet though, and every year I add more flower gardens to the land around me.

The yard is still ridiculously and embarrassingly large. Totally unnecessary, but if it needs to be mowed, I will do the mowing. I am the mower. Hear me roar.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Look Up, Look Down, Lock On

Today my students played a game of "Lock On". This is meant to practice eye contact, and it's fun as well. The way you play is to stand in a circle, and the leader says, "Look up, look down, lock on." and you all look up, look down, and then lock your eyes on someone in the circle. If they happen to be looking back at you, then you sit down with them. Otherwise, the game continues until all but 2 are sitting. I like to vary it by altering whether I say, "look up" or "look down" first.
Tonight in the ever-greening spring woods, I felt like I was playing a version of "Lock On" that kept me looking up, looking down, and locking on constantly! I couldn't make up my mind which direction to look. There were rewards either way, but if I looked up to see which bird was making that amazing sound, then I missed the frogs leaping from my toes to the swamp. When I looked down and saw that garter snake, I missed the flash of red wings that flew by my head. While I was gazing upward at the vine-choked trees, I didn't see all of the fresh wintergreen at my feet.
I felt like Owl at Home, when he can't make up his mind about whether to be upstairs or downstairs, and finally sits on the middle step. Except, on a beautiful spring night in the woods, there is no middle step. There are sticks to be thrown for Tansy, foam peanuts to get out of the swamp, logs to be walked on, moss to be patted, flowers to admire, mushrooms to examine, peepers to stalk, fiddle-heads to photograph... I cannot look only up; I cannot look only down. I need eyes in the back of my head and under my feet and in all of my finger tips! I want to lock-on with each of these, without missing the others.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Live It

Yesterday as I was attempting to leave the library, weaving my way through families with wayward children, I spotted a little spark of life who made me grin. Her mother was pushing a stroller, and 2 other young children dutifully trailed after her. But this one- this one suddenly stopped in the middle of the library lobby to execute a beautiful flip into a back bend, followed by a delighted wriggle and collapsing on the floor with her dress flipped over her shoulders. Mom turns around and gives an exasperated sigh of the little one's name. As she scrambles to her feet, I notice that while the other children, and their mother, are wearing sensible Saturday clothes, the object of my amusement is wearing a shimmering, ruffled dress complete with mismatched, print tights and fancy shoes. I recognized a kindred spirit in that instant, and I know from experience, that she wasn't going out of the house in anything less than her finest. We, as a group now, headed for the first set of doors, the other two children followed their mother to where I held open the door clearly marked, "exit". My little friend marched up to the door on the left and pushed as hard as she could, her little feet braced out behind her and all of her might aimed at that entrance door. Her brother, who couldn't have been more than a year older, turned and exclaimed her name, bringing her into line with the rest of the family. Only after trying the door thoroughly, was she willing to follow the beaten path.
Everything about her suggested that she is and always will be, emphatically, her own person. She will not be a trend follower, nor, even, a trend setter, but her own unquenched person.

When do we become so grown up and responsible that we bury the urge to do a flip in the middle of the library? Or jump to hit things hanging from the ceiling? Or just wiggle while we walk down the hall? When did we start avoiding puddles instead of stomping in them, and start worrying that our socks match our shirts and our outfits don't stand out any more than they should? When did we stop wearing the clothes that REALLY delight us and help define who we are?

That age differs for everyone, I'd imagine, but what if we started making the effort to recapture that personal style? Imagine us in our painfully adult bodies, complete with aching joints, stiff necks, push up bras, pointed shoes, tight ties, constricting suit jackets, and coiffed hair... imagine us coming to work one day wearing our favorite things, whether they match or not, and doing headstands or cartwheels down the hallway, instead of rushing to where we have to be. Imagine us with our hair in pigtails or just as it was when we rolled out of bed, as we trail down the hallways running our fingers over the texture of the walls, or jumping to whack leaves under which we walk, and using our faces to show our every emotion, rather than hiding it in polite smiles and shifted eyes.

Take it even farther. We sing the songs that are running through our heads, and we abandon tasks that bore us. We kick off our shoes and sit on the grass, regardless of grass stains. We jump in that drifted snow instead of avoiding it, and rather than worrying about how we look when we walk, we return to the joys of skipping, sliding, hopping, or galloping as we go about our day.

Wouldn't that be something? I may be a teacher, but I sure have a lot to learn from a 4 year old in a shimmery, ruffled dress doing flips in the library.