*originally ran in The Covington News
The Esoteric South
Reaching Nirvana Through Lawn Maintenance
Cutting grass is a passion of mine, and I believe it to be good for the soul. I truly do.
Now, that statement probably comes as a great surprise to some of my neighbors in and around the North Covington historical community. They'd probably speak to this in the contrary, and, if so, I'd probably not have much to say to dispute it. However, I think I've got a pretty good excuse. For most of the last year or so our lawn mower has been broken, and while we've tried to pay folks to cut it a fair amount, it's just so much harder to put it high on the priority list when we have to dish out money. In addition, I've been known to have a propensity for laziness, and it's just been so hot! And maybe the whiskey sometimes plays a role...
In fact — truth be told — the last time the grass was cut, after our lawn mower was fixed, it was my lovely wife who cut the grass.
There was a time in my life when I used to concern myself whenever she'd cut the grass (so you can tell it's been more than once). I'd think to myself something along the lines of: "Man, the folks around here are going to think you're a total and absolute no-account." I used to concern myself with this but not anymore. No, I finally learned to embrace it. It's like the lyrics to "Good Hearted Woman." I realized, ultimately, that it was a win for Yours Truly. "That rascal Marshall McCart," they'd say. "He won't even cut his own grass. Poor ole Ann has to do it."
For the record, she says she likes to cut grass. Therefore, in my mind's eye, I'm just helping her to be happy and reach Maslow's concept of Self Actualization, right? We do what we can here, folks, I'm just happy to help!
Really, though, cuttin' grass is serious business. A lot of heavy thinking gets done in the course of the process. For me, the usual identities of these thoughts are as follows: God, UGA football, Led Zeppelin, and Hunter S. Thompson. And I think about my wife and daughter too, for sure. Sometimes I think about the weather, and whether or not it may rain. Sometimes I think about government and politics. I pretty much think about those things all the time anyway, but it seems like the thinking is more important when one is in the act of this endeavor.
I remember one time many years ago when I was talking to this yokel about the differences between how men cut grass vs. women. This fella was a real piece of work. He was basically like a Southern-style Redneck, but he was from Ohio, or maybe Pennsylvania. But anyhow, his whole thing was this:
"Men and women cut grass different, ya' know?"
I nodded while maintaining eye contact, letting him know I was really interested in what he had to say.
"Us guys have a plan when cutting grass, ya' know." We cut the outer perimeter, and then we go back and forth in straight lines...we try to make it efficient."
He went on to say, "Women don't, though. They're just all out there haphazard and willy-nilly. No pattern. No logic. It's just a free-for-all."
I, once again, let him know I was listening and that I respected his point of view (although I really didn't put much stock in it. At that point, I was just ready to get back to the house).
But later on, it did get me to thinking. Men and women do cut grass differently. I'd seen it before with Ann. She'd be out there all over the place. Going back and forth, cutting in circles; as the fella said — no real pattern, or so it seemed.
I remember my dad giving me the rundown on how you properly cut a yard when I was a young kid, and that's the plan I've always tried execute. Sometimes, though, especially when you get to the end of the process, or if you have a unique yard design (like ours), you can't always stick to the plan. And I, on many occasions, have found myself cutting grass like a girl. It happens. Invariably, though, whenever this occurs, it always seems like my old-timer neighbor who served as a Marine, drives by right at that precise moment.
It's like I can hear him muttering under his breath, "he cuts grass like a …," and I swear I always see him shaking his head as he accelerates after making the turn in front of my yard. Oh well, maybe it's just all in my head.
Another thing about cutting grass is getting the dang thing started. It always takes me back to my childhood when, probably about every other time, I couldn't get it cranked and I'd have to get Dad to do it. Usually, it would end up being, for at least a brief amount of time, a bit of a struggle for him as well. You could always count on some contorted faces and maybe a couple of choice words as he was pulling the cord. It was as if all the stress of the previous week was being channeled into this cathartic ritual. The whole earth might be a big ole catastrophe and there are about 127 different things on your mind, but by God, we're gonna get this darn lawnmower running! And that's how it is with me, years and years later.
You do some really good thinking when you're cutting the grass. At first, it's a ton of thoughts, in all directions, all at once. But as you expend that energy, and continue to get more and more done, those thoughts tend to whittle down and the energy seems to get less frenetic. You tend to feel more peaceful and serene. And about the time you finish up, and get to sit down on the porch with your ice cold beverage, you look out and smile. That feeling of instant gratification we're always yearning for envelopes you, and with a calm, quiet mind, you think to yourself maybe something like this:
“The world might be a mess, and there's so much going on in this crazy place, but I got my grass cut today, and it was good.”
And what is it about the smell of fresh-cut grass that simply captures us?
Marshall McCart aspires to one day be able to fully and truly articulate that peculiar essence of what The Esoteric South is all about.