Shocking the grass into submission

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer April 26, 2013 09:23 am

Today most people live in big houses with small yards. Growing up, I lived in a small house with a 400-acre yard. Well, at least it seemed that big when we pulled out the electric lawn mower, opened a window in the utility room, plugged in the quarter mile of linked extension cords and went to work mowing.

In spring, the grass seemed to grow several inches an hour. We’d just get done with one mowing and have to start on the next. 

I was extremely enthusiastic during the first couple of passes, happily puttering behind the whirring machine that sounded like a cross between a bumblebee and a hair dryer. 

Then the extension cord would drag through the tall grass and get wet. Did I mention that it rained every other day in the west side or “wet side” of Oregon? What’s more, I lived in a box canyon that trapped more clouds than mountain man Jim Bridger trapped beavers.

I would grab the cord to swing it out of the way for the next pass and get a shock that was enough to discourage me from a life of crime. I didn’t want the electric chair. I had enough electricity coursing through my 10-year-old body already to glow in the dark.

Dad and Mom, however, were of the belief that chores built character. They seemed to have the notion that I was always in use of more character — and lawn mowing perhaps built the most character of any chore we had.

Powerful as a ladybug 

Even worse, the lawn mower was about 6 inches wide and as powerful as a ladybug.  The lawn, meanwhile, was full of crab grass that resisted haircuts as much as Vietnam War draft dodgers.

The lawn was also as bumpy as a jeep trail, thanks to our many philosophical cattle. The cattle, having not read self-help books, believed the grass was greener in the yard than in their adjacent pasture, and so they sought to fulfill their bliss there. We’d look up from the Chet Huntley and David Brinkley TV newscast and see them with their noses pressed up against the windows. Apparently they, too, were enthralled with men walking on the moon, perhaps wanting to brag that a cow had jumped over the moon earlier.

We’d chase the nosy cows back into the pasture. On the way out, however, they got revenge. These animated fertilizer spreaders put their version of speedy grow on a yard that didn’t need any encouragement.

The cow droppings were good for only one thing. They’d snag onto the lawnmower wheels and stay there for the life of the lawn mower, which despite its ladybug power seemed to be indestructible. Every time the wheels got wet, which was constant on the wet side, the fresh cow smell reconstituted stronger than ever.

I swore when I got older to put in a yard where I could celebrate spring by watching the moss grow on the north side of the rocks. I had built enough character for a lifetime, thanks anyway.