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Mowing in the wind

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In the gluttonous, grass-planting outdoor life-extension that was the 1990s, I was Johnny Grass Seed. I believed the television turf-builder dream. With two toddlers, I wanted a safe, soft, green launching pad for all their nature discovery lessons. A giant play set with a slide and swings surrounded by a fairway-quality grassy plain, children romping barefoot, chasing butterflies.

It never really happened that way. The so-called grass gave way quickly to moss and a verdant mix of vetch and clover. And weeds. But when it's cut low it looks like a lawn. Following the new, and easier, less-is-more green landscaping vision, we're mulching everywhere, bringing the woods closer. Running cedar and that now-handy moss (actually a sign of poor soil, I'm told) encroach on the last tufts of store-bought grass.

We all have our domestic routines. Driving home Thursday nights, I just can't help noticing those special guys (and women, too, OK?). You folks are shaming us by already mowing your lawns, getting a 36-hour jump on the weekend. I don't even have a list on the fridge yet, and the early birds are crossing theirs off. I'm still wondering if I need gas.

I've upgraded mowers a few times as I've pushed their capabilities, breaking crankshafts, discovering the hard way I just could not mow pine stumps at will. I remember thinking our leisure-world civilization had finally trumped itself when cup-holders made their appearance on bright red, mondo self-propelled mowers. Now I want some.

The most helpful tip I ever got from the local small-engine mechanic was to run the engine dry the last time the mower was used in the fall. Unused gas separates over the winter and rots the carburetor. True that! Last week, my dusty machine started right up (almost—three pulls) when I topped it off with liquid gold at $3.50 a gallon.

I wrote a letter to the Troy-Bilt suggestion box once. How about a see-through mulch bag? Sew a thin, clear plastic top on that black box. We use the mulch around the vegetables, in the chicken coop, for compost. I've emptied those bags so often, I think I have muscle memory for the whole bending down and checking the bag pattern.

Rounding a tree, trying to keep a nice curve, I was wondering what kind of mower Bob Dylan uses. Does he favor a walk-behind or does he like riding high in the saddle? Does he even find time for such a stereotypical weekend chore? Or is it more like mowing Maggie's farm?

Searching the Theme Time Radio archives, I found this nugget from our Pulitzer Prize-winning, grass-loving poet of the people. Right before wishing everyone a Happy New Year in 2008, he smiled and leaned into the microphone: "According to research, the most popular resolution in early Babylonia was to return borrowed farm equipment. I wish Harold would return my lawn mower." See, he's tight with two-cycle engines.

Climbing off his Never Ending Tour bus, road-weary from all those blacktop miles, I can imagine Bob challenging Jack White to a rider mower race through the rolling backyards of Nashville. You don't need a weatherman to know when it's time to mow.

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