July 12, 2010
Engines fascinate me. I love the way they run, their sound, the sweet spots on the throttle where they don’t shake, even their distinct aromas. How they’re built is largely beyond my ken, but old engines can run a long time with proper care. I still remember their smell from my early years as I carefully followed my father into the otherwise-forbidden garages and barns of his associates.
Our cruiser WYBMADIITY II had a sweet old Chrysler Crown six. In a marina full of V8’s it sounded like a mourning dove among crows. WYB would announce her presence with this gentle, burbling purr wherever she went. Maybe that’s why people liked the boat. It’s certainly one reason why we kept her for a generation.
My current fishing boat has a Mercury outboard. It’s very reliable and uses little fuel for what it does, but the vibrations turn the whole aluminum hull into a drum whenever I slow down and at certain unpredictable speeds, so cruising with the Merc involves searching the throttle for a spot where the thing doesn’t shake the fillings out of my teeth.
This is all by way of explaining why these days I don’t fish as much as I used to. Seems most of my free time this summer is spent on one tractor or another, mowing.
I googled articles on men and mowing and came up with a trunkload of material on the subject. Robert Fulford ran “The Lawn: North America’s magnificent obsession” in Azure magazine in July of 1998. Fulford rather playfully suggested that the suburban lawn is the public moral statement of the male of the household. But that’s not it. My neighbours are too far away to care about dandelions (though my mother obsesses about them, in season), and I needn’t worry about vicious telephone conversations among Forfar residents about my lax mowing habits if I slacken off and let the sumacs sprout on the margins of the orchard.
Daniel Wood in Air Canada magazine suggested that lawn care is a pagan religion in much of North America. Enormous quantities of water, fertilizer, fuel and time are sacrificed to the small patch of turf in an effort to restore it to the virginal green blankness which we idealize as the perfect lawn.
“I mean, how is it that North Americans spend more on grass than the entire world spends on foreign aid? How is it that during the continent’s increasingly dry summers, over 60 percent of drinking water goes to quenching the thirst of fundamentally decorative turf? How is it that the typical North American homeowner spends 150 hours on lawn care annually and 35 hours on sex?”
Wood further comments: “North Americans spend an estimated $100- billion annually on lawns. In value, grass is, by far, the most important agricultural crop on the continent.” I wonder where Wood gets his statistics?
In his blog The Discerning Brute, Joshua Katcher offers the following historical background to the lawn:
“In the sixteenth century and continuing through the eighteenth, the “launde”, an open space or glade maintained by laborers wielding scythes, began to appear throughout the residences of British aristocrats. Obviously, it soon came to represent the leisure of class privilege, wealth, and power, and the culmination of lawn culture, according to Jenkins (The Lawn, a History of an American Obsession), was the establishment of twentieth century golf courses and country clubs. But as Steinburg (American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn) argues, it never became the moral crusade it has become in America quite possibly because grass grows so effortlessly in Britain, and turfgrass is not at all native to North America – not even Kentucky Bluegrass. The early colonizers’ cattle quickly destroyed the native grasses, not used to grazing, and in came bluegrass seeds from Europe to fill that niche.
“On a deeper level, the lawn represents a desire to control unpredictable, wild nature. Some anthropologists argue that the lawn comes from self-defense. When nomadic gatherer-hunters began settling into sedentary and semi-sedentary homes, they cleared the vegetation surrounding their dwellings in order to foresee potential danger coming – a predator, a snake, an enemy. The lawn is a bastion between the fearful individual and a dangerous wilderness. Even more so, it is the manifestation of the deepest-seeded principles of our culture and civilization: man’s control over nature. Therefore, those who let their lawns go wild are threats to the foundation of civilization itself.”
Naw. I like the sound of a diesel as it powers the mower through a row of grass. It sends the message that it will run tirelessly for as long as I want it to, and for just a little fuel.
I like the feel of the tractor at work, the way it moves over uneven turf. The TAFE has foot pegs like a motorcycle, and that seating position with pegs-seat-steering wheel works better for me for a long drive than the cushy seats of a Lexus. I can also stand up and stretch under the canopy on long rows, a welcome relief to tired muscles and joints. And the expensive new rotary mower works great.
But the Bolens has no foot pegs. There’s no room to stand up either. The ride is so harsh I have to add a pillow, yet the little tractor lures me onto its seat more than the larger TAFE with its fancy shield against the sun. So it has to be the engine.