Zen and the Transcendent Art Of Mowing Grass

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Zen and the Transcendent Art Of Mowing Grass

As a youth, I hated to mow so much that one day I left our push-mower in the yard to rust and became an expatriated Texas writer. My first story was about an alien being who, in the end, turned out to be a lawnmower.

By the time I came home again, I had spent so much time in the East that my Texas friends expected me to move into a highrise in downtown Dallas. But instead we settled sixteen miles to the south, in Cedar Hill. We surprised everyone by buying a place with an eight-acre yard.

It was during the summer, and I had to start mowing immediately. "You just stay inside where it's cool," I told Norma, who is afraid of grass. "I'll take care of the yard." As I spoke, I was gazing out at more grass and weeds than I'd ever seen in my life, except at a cemetery.

Now whenever anybody from Dallas comes out to see our spread for the first time, they remark on the seclusion, the spaciousness, the scenic beauty. Then they ask uneasily, "Do you MOW all this?" People don't like it when I say yes. They don't understand it. Old friends say I've changed, implying for the worst.

But there is a difference between what I do today and the mowing of my youth. Mowing a little patch of front yard is typical outdoor city work: boring, undistinguished, pitiable, drone-like activity. But getting astride a John Deere tractor and spending twenty hours in two days tackling tough thistles, high Johnson grass, giant sticker weeds, and creeper so tough it copulates with barbed wire is the kind of intense activity that, if you survive it, eventually transcends itself. Like Zen or long-distance running, it becomes a path to wisdom.

I've been at it three years now, and it's no accident that I don't write as I used to. All I really want to write about is mowing-and then for only an hour or so at a time between whole days on my tractor. The fact is, mowing and writing fill the same needs, only mowing does it better.

Mowing eight acres every week would drive some kinds of people mad, but it has served to make me feel in harmony with the flux of the heaving earth as it hurtles through time.

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