This Side Up

Don't dog it when cutting the lawn


There’s something about the first cut of the season that smell, the sticky blades of grass that get tracked into the house and, of course, the hum of the mower that in itself is a shout out for summer.

I was anxious to make that cut two weeks ago, but then it rained and, as you know it rained again the following weekend. There wasn’t a lawn, but a swamp. Might we get vernal ponds with peepers (now that would have been nice), skunk cabbage and jack in the pulpits? No, my yard wasn’t that soggy yet I was beginning to wonder if it would ever dry out enough to cut the shaggy grass growing in splotches like a terrible haircut.

Looking at the weekend forecast, I grabbed my opportunity late Saturday morning. I figured the lawn was dry enough.

I found the mower in a corner of the garage. It was flaked with leaves from mulching in the fall. I checked the gas tank and could see the reflection of fuel. That wasn’t a positive sign. I usually run it dry before its winter nap.

The oil checked out. I took out the air filter. It was clogged with dust and fine chopped leaves. I banged it clean and replaced it. Then came the moment of truth. The engine didn’t even as much as cough on the first pull, but by the third it roared to life in a puff of white smoke that drifted over the lawn.

Ollie hadn’t paid attention to me until now. He came over to investigate then in disgust trotted down the drive. Of the dogs that have been our partners, Binky loved the lawn mower or more accurately the fact that I was crossing the yard so many times. A rescue dog, he was a Doberman/ greyhound mix that lived to run. Before the world became so uptight about leash laws, I would bring him to Gorton early in the morning with a tennis racket and two or three balls. Pointing in the direction I was going to hit the ball, Binky would get a head start. Then I’d whack the ball up in the air and still racing, his eyes locked on the target he would charge down the field occasionally catching the ball before it hit the ground. He’d do it over and over and then spend the rest of the day snoozing in the yard. He knew his boundaries and never left the yard, fiercely guarding it when anyone ventured to walk across the seawall or stroll down the drive.

For him the lawn mower was a kindred beast. It growled; it spat; it covered every inch of the sacred space that made up the yard. As soon as he heard it, he awoke and took up his position a good ten feet ahead of the lane I was about to cut. He’d be crouched on all fours, fitting of a coach looking to urge on his student. And he’d have a tennis ball clamped firmly in his jaw. As the mower approached, he’d disgorge the ball causing me to swerve, but giving me the chance to boot the ball. He loved this game although to the eye of the perfectionist, the lanes swerved and every so often there was a line of uncut grass.

Ollie never bonded with the lawnmower. It’s something he tolerates at best.

The mower did its thing Saturday uniformly cutting the first shoots of spring and engendering the anticipation of sun, warmer weather and those days when a chilled beer never tasted so good. On a couple of passes I discovered I was leaving a trail of white that looked like Styrofoam popcorn used for packing. As it turned out, I was chopping up mushrooms. Yes, it’s been a soggy spring.

As I finished up, I found Ollie watching.

He didn’t have a ball. I found a stick. That was good enough for him.

He bounded over and willingly pulled it away.

I confess I miss Binky’s antics, but on the other hand it takes me half the time to cut the lawn with Ollie. Ollie’s not dumb. He knows when it’s time to work and when it’s time to play.


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