DaniGirl versus the Yawing Green Canyon of Death

by DaniGirl on May 27, 2011 · 11 comments

in The ongoing saga of the house

I like cutting the grass. It’s a reasonably mindless chore that takes physical but not mental effort, and you can do it outside. When you’re cutting the grass, it’s just you and the lawnmower and the great outdoors, and nobody is yanking on your leg asking for a cookie or to wipe their bum.

We moved in to the new house in mid-October last year. I’d ordinarily mow the lawn up until November on a every-week-or-three basis, but with the move craziness and 400 metric tonnes of leaves to rake up, cutting the grass was simply not much of a priority. Through the winter, I’d ponder the lawn, wondering how long it might take to cut it (the guy we bought from said an hour for the front and an hour for the back, but he’s deceived us on enough things that I wasn’t willing to take his word for it) and looking forward to it with a bit of a sense of adventure. Don’t laugh now, it only gets worse from here.

As it rained and rained and rained through April and May, the grass grew unfettered, and I played with my computer researching cordless versus electric versus gas mowers. I started out thinking we would invest in a cordless, but the more I read about them the more they seemed designed for the postage-stamp-sized suburban lawn we’d left behind in Barrhaven, not the 1/2 acre of wilderness that comprises the lot in Manotick.

129:365 Dewy [Explored]

By the time we had a three-hour interval with no rain, I still hadn’t made up my mind about which kind of lawnmower we needed to acquire (and was still balking at the $500+ price tag for a cordless mower) so I hauled out our old electric. The 50 foot cord wasn’t going to come close to giving us full coverage, but my dad scrounged up a manky old cord from his collection and brought it over for us. It had only a few places where the insulation had been worn through to expose the wires inside, and since it was a good 100′ or more, I deemed it only moderately unsafe and thus entirely good enough.

Remember last Thursday, that day when right around 4 pm Mother Nature said, “Oh, you want summer? Here you go!” and turned up the heat and the sunshine? Yeah, that day got me all excited, so right after work/school I hauled out the manky cord and the electric mower with blades that hadn’t been sharpened since we got it five years ago and set to work. Except the manky cord had this weird coupling that didn’t fit into the protected end of the lawnmower cord, so I had to get out the 50 foot cord and attach it to the lawnmower, but then attach the other end to the manky cord so I could mow beyond two rows in front of the porch, and while there was a feather of concern about the elevated risk of electrocution it was quashed by the anvil of stubborn determination to mow the goddamn lawn before it reached the height of my knees.

And so, abused lawnmower tethered to the house by not one but two manky cords, I gripped the dead man switch and pressed the button and off I rumbled down the first row. Little did I know that my right hand would eventually atrophy into a hideous claw around that dead man switch. But I’m getting ahead of myself and really, we’ve only barely begun. (Wait, don’t go, there’s more!)

So the first row went okay, and the second, but as I moved away from the garden in front of the porch and toward the road, the grass got thicker, and thicker, and thicker, and the lawnmower started complaining. Despite the fact that my rows had narrowed from nearly the width of the lawnmower to half the width of the lawnmower to the width of the inside wheel of the lawnmower, its little engine chuffed said, “Please, could you go a little slower? I’m having a spot of difficulty in keeping up.” So I slowed my pace a bit, and a bit more, and a bit more, until I was moving at a pace that was only a little bit slower than continental drift, but I still had to stop every row or so when the lawnmower choked up completely.

The first time it happened, I carefully unplugged the cord (Elmer the Safety Elephant says ‘Safety First!’), turned the lawnmower over, and disgorged three bales’ worth of grass from its guts, then carefully uprighted it and plugged it back in. With each subsequent time it happened, I took less and less care, until I was flipping the damn thing over like a coin, cramming a stick into its inner workings before the blades had even come to rest.

Did I mention the broken handle on the mower? We lost a bolt maybe a year or so ago, and so while the handle holds together mostly pretty well, it has the alarming habit of collapsing randomly, just when you’re not expecting it to.

And so it went, for about half an hour, until I got to *insert ominous music here* — the culvert.

I’m such a suburbanite, I’m not even entirely sure that culvert is the right word. I suppose “drainage ditch” is another good term for it. In the winter months, I thought it was grand when it provided the boys with our own private tobogganing hill:

4:365 Frontyard sledding

In summer months, however, it turns into a yawing green canyon of death. I tried running the mower the length of it, but came precariously close to tumbling over sideways when the slope approached a near vertical. Eventually I had to resort to hunkering down a few steps down from the apex and easing the lawnmower down to the bottom of the ditch, then yanking it back up again as I scrambled to keep my footing and clamber back to the top of the slope, all while maintaining a death-grip on the dead man switch with one hand and frantically swiping the manky cord out of my way with the other. I only slipped and fell once, but I did let the mower tumble into the ditch a few times when gravity had the upper hand and I needed to sacrifice the mower’s momentum to save my own. And there’s a slight chance that I may have flung it into the ditch in exasperation, just once or twice.

It was, to say the least, not pretty. What had seemed like a glorious early summer day had quickly deteriorated into a humid inferno. The only thing thicker than the grass were the mosquito swarms, but the grass was SO thick at the bottom of the ditch that I had to contort the (shifty) handle down flat to the ground beneath my feet (while trying not to lose my balance on the slope and fall ass-over-teakettle into the ditch) so I could give the blades a bit of air so they’d keep turning. And I worked my way methodically up and down that godforsaken ditch that way, cursing lawns and lawnmowers and manky cords and broken handles and mosquito and the sweat running into my eyes in increasingly colourful language. What knocking a tree into the neighbour’s pool during a windstorm did for my introduction to the back neighbours was nothing to the impression I must have made on the front neighbours during the debacle that was my first attempt to cut the lawn.

Eventually, I had to stop as I had a meeting scheduled with a new caregiver (a story to be told another day) but Beloved had wisely ordered pizza and fed the kids as I’d cut and cursed the grass. After two hours of sweaty labour, I’d mowed only two-thirds of the front lawn. Jesus wept, and so did I.

I won’t bore you with the sweaty details of the subsequent session of lawnmowing that weekend. Here’s the highlights: I started cutting just after lunch on Saturday afternoon, picking up where I left off (and falling into a wretched heap when I realized that the grass had grown enough to need recutting in just TWO DAYS) and finishing just before dinner. By the time I was rolling through the last few rows in the back yard, I felt like a marathoner crossing the finish line. I was shaky and weepy and clean out of curses. It had taken me FIVE hours over two days to cut the whole lawn.

I spent the evening on Saturday nursing my aching biceps and back and trying to massage some feeling into the hand that had permanently taken on the shape of the dead man switch on the lawnmower handle, and researching new electric lawnmowers. I’m still afraid of gas mowers and we can’t afford a lawn tractor. I read that a cordless mower holds a charge for 30 – 45 minutes at a go and guffawed; surely the environmental and financial impact of a shredded cord or two each year is considerably better than that of the five or six lawnmower batteries we’d need to get the job done.

Personally, I’m thinking the best solution is a goat. Beloved expressly forbade me from raising chickens, but he never once said I couldn’t buy a goat…


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Frédéric St-Louis May 27, 2011 at 8:50 am

We live in Greely, on a similar 1/2 acre lot. It was quite a shock for use also to move from a townhouse with a 10×10 patch of grass to this.

We purchased a self-propelled gas mower (not a ride-on tractor) and it takes about 1 hour to mow the whole lawn. The one we purchased is a Honda; It is quite easy to start, clean burning and reliable. However it was not cheap … ~800$.

This spring, with the grass growing at the speed it is, mowing twice a week is almost required, if not the the lawn gets too tall and the mower chokes.

2 Danielle May 27, 2011 at 8:53 am

Every time I mow, I curse the city by-laws (and my husband) for not letting me keep grazing animals.

I have a push reel mower. No fuel, no batteries and at the end of the season, I have arms of steel.

3 Anonymous May 27, 2011 at 8:56 am

Tears … streaming down my face in laughter!!! Poor you, but thanks for bringing a smile to an otherwise dreary day!! I had to read this one out loud to PC!

He wants you to know that there is 0% financing at Husqvarna (http://www.husqvarna.com), you can take up to two years to pay off a 2K lawn tractor! And… he thinks a wise investment would be a high-power whipper snipper for the ditch!!

I’m betting if this rain keeps up, you might be in for Round TWO by Sunday! The good news is, with three strapping young boys in your family, you’ll only have to do this a few more years, before they will gladly take over!

4 Danielle May 27, 2011 at 8:56 am

Of course, if I had a 1/2 acre, I don’t think I’d want to do it manually.

5 Marianne May 27, 2011 at 12:51 pm

A self-propelled gas mower would be a lot more powerful and save you time and physical energy. But they make me nervous too. So do electric mowers for that matter — my husband is in charge of mowing at our house. Is a second hand riding mower an option? Our former neighbours moved to a large semi-rural property last fall and bought a second hand riding mower with not too many fancy options to save money.

6 DaniGirl May 27, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Danielle, I thought hard about one of those push reel mowers, but I fear I’d wade into the jungle of the lawn and never be seen again!

I forgot to mention that I’m also all holier-than-thou about the gas mower issue — I heard somewhere that they pollute worse than 10 cars or something horrendous like that. And while I was making a spectacle of myself with my electric mower, my neighbour across the street had the hood up on his ride-on trying to fix the damn thing. A ride-on tractor strikes me as WAY too high-maintenance for inattentive me!

7 Anonymous May 27, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Hilarious post and I’m sure the grass grew another two inches as you composed it!
My sister has quite a steep culvert too and decided to get rid of all her grass and built a rock garden on the slope, planted perennials throughout the entire thing, laid down layers of mulch and hasn’t had to worry about cutting the culvert for two years now.

P.S. Make a deal with your husband, you’ll handle all of the inside of the house and he can take care of all of the exterior!

8 Judy May 27, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Really a gas mower would make it easier. If you get a newer one that is well services (ie sharpened and cleaned each year!!) it won’t pollute as badly.

9 Sara May 27, 2011 at 9:47 pm

I feel awful laughing at your lawn mowing predicament…forgive me. When I moved away from home for the first time it was to a country house with a 1/2 acre lawn that was a hill. I used an electric mower. It was misery. But I developed some mad grass cutting skillz. You too will master the acreage by September 🙂

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