Whilst for many cutting the grass is a tedious and onerous task, for me mowing the lawn is a therapeutic exercise. It allows my mind to wander as the lawnmower engine chugs gently away and the blades whirr across the grass trimming it to a satisfyingly even height. Of course grass grows everywhere and not every bit of lawn is so neatly cut as the fairways of Augusta or the square at Lords.
The windows of our house look out over a small garden lawn that I keep for best, rather like the front room my nan used to keep in her house for special occasions. And it is this small area that I loving mow often ignoring the other more awkward areas of long grass around flower beds and trees out of sight of the house.
With a lively anticipation I pull the cord and the mower kicks into life with a constant hum and I commence the exercise by trimming around the edges, in a way defining the problem.
The second lesson is to fix a target on the far side of the lawn and mow straight at it. This metaphor for life keeps the lines true and has been used by ploughmen over the centuries when making their narrow parallel undeviating furrows.
The next lesson when mowing is to remember to mow directly against a darker line. Because of the angle of the blades, the grass lays down in one direction when the mower passes over it. So the grass always appears darker when looking into the grain and I constantly remind myself as if I was watching a 1950’s cowboy western that light lines (or hats) are with you; dark lines (or hats) are against you.
Yet there’s more to stimulate the grey cells as one mows, the concept of infinity where parallel lines meet can be pondered as indeed can the whole idea of life and growth. For it only takes water, heat, and sunshine to make the grass grow and like some giant experiment vary these and the rate of growth changes. Cold winters give me break as do dry summer months.
In the early seventeenth century, Jan Baptista van Helmont grew a willow tree in a weighed amount of soil. After five years, he discovered that the willow tree weighed about 74 kg more than it did at the start. As the weight of the soil had hardly changed, van Helmont concluded that plant growth cannot only be due to minerals from the soil. He thought that the extra plant material had come from the water alone.
In 1771, Joseph Priestley showed that plants produce oxygen. He put a mint plant in a closed container with a burning candle. The candle flame used up the oxygen and went out. After 27 days, Priestley was able to re-light the candle. This showed that the mint plant produced a gas that allows fuels to burn. This gas is oxygen. He concluded that plants convert the gas produced by the burning candle into oxygen. Ultimately this led to the idea of a neat symbiosis between plants and animals, each gives out a gas vital to the other: plants make oxygen, animals make carbon dioxide. A lesson we are in danger of of unlearning today as we cut cut down the forests which are the lungs of the planet.
Now my mind like the mower needs to turn around at the end of each line and I get a new perspective. I see things now from an opposing point of view, again a lesson people ignore at their peril. If only they could see both sides of an argument we would avoid many confrontations.
And if I mowed the lines with wide and narrow stripes, I could perhaps have stumbled on the idea of a barcode developed in the early 1970s.
So mowing my lawn does not only make my garden look nice, it’s a lesson in so many small things. It’s little surprise that I enjoy mowing this lawn.