A brief foray into the world of reality, and one of my major preoccupations at this time of year.
A warm, wet spring has seen an even more pronounced rampage of greenery than usual for this time of year. The inexorable rustling of grass growing out of control can almost be heard above the frequent showers of rain, while males all over the country watch frowning from their living room windows, powerless to halt the green tide.
It is probably safe to say that this compulsion to tame and control one’s immediate grassy surroundings is a male affliction; alas – fantasising about making an almost instantaneous impact on the environment with as big a machine as possible seems to go hand-in-hand with ‘testosterone poisoning’. Ride-on mowers are proudly displayed to friends, and duly examined and admired with the same degree of envy and respect afforded exhibits at a classic car rally. Urgings to ‘take her for a spin’ are usually instantly accepted, and often regretted all round as an inexperienced driver inevitably finds the one hidden rock or tree stump on the entire property.
There are a number of theories behind the phenomenon known as the lawn, one being that they were originally an attempt to emulate the semi rural estates of the landed gentry. Difficult to apply this to your typical quarter-acre slice of paradise, but perhaps the psychology is sound. A lawn is a status symbol, why else would we lavish so much time and care on them, and fret when the weather prevents us from firing up the mower? In New Zealand we are mercifully free from the moles and gophers who famously decimate the lawns in Britain and the US, but in our rural areas at least, grass grubs and the chickens who love to excavate and eat them can make grown men cry.
Finding myself with two and a half acres to control when I moved to the country, it became clear that a push mower wasn’t going to cut it, as it were. I managed to maintain a sad little moat of mown lawn around our house, but the pampas ruled everywhere else - looming like a solid mass of triffids waiting patiently for the opportunity to reclaim ground. So I was thrilled when my wife made the semi-serious gesture of presenting me with a genuine scythe which she’d bought from an antique dealer – and delighted in how ergonomically perfect the gracefully curving wooden handle felt to hold. Great swaths of grass fell instantly before my wildly swinging onslaught, and I was even vaguely proud of the fact that, when combined with my skeletal build, the image must have strongly suggested the Grim Reaper. “I am the Death of grass!” I exalted, until the absurdly long blade found another hidden rock or tree stump and I’d come to a juddering halt, more like Wyle E Coyote than the fearsome personification of mortality.
As satisfyingly physical as scything was, the effort and blisters didn’t really justify the fairly modest results, and so the 21st century interceded in the form of a huge petrol-driven scrub-cutter. Sporting handle bars like a motorcycle and requiring a harness to support its weight, this was the muscular, evolutionary pinnacle of the humble lawn strimmer – on steroids. Steroids were almost required to be able to operate this behemoth as well - but this time treacherous rocks and tree stumps tended to disintegrate in showers of sparks and wood chips. Urban myths involving the ferocious circular blade suddenly working loose and bringing instant spinning carnage to anything within its radius always meant that I checked this machine carefully before unleashing it on our rapidly retreating meadows.
The scrub-cutter’s main drawback was the noise it produced. On one never-to-be repeated occasion, I accidentally snagged my ear-muffs on a low-hanging branch, and the sudden exposure to the engine sound made my ears ring for days afterwards. It was also frequently pointed out to me by my significant other that this weapon of grass destruction was absolutely no fun to listen to for hours on end, either.
The scrub-cutter’s life burned brightly but relatively briefly, the mighty beast finally succumbing to an internal fault which was too expensive to fix. But by now, our ‘estate’ had been subdued and it was now a case of refining and maintenance. A ride-on mower was the only remaining option, and after ‘big red’, a sprightly Masport five-speed, was delivered, we’ve never looked back. It’s definitely a more sedentary way of keeping our grass down - I’ve been known to wear my iPod under the ear muffs, although certainly never installed a beverage holder as some reputedly have - but the result is unrivalled by any other method. There’s a huge satisfaction in noting how even the scrubbiest, most weed-infested wasteland can start to look like a lawn after just a few repeated mowings.
On a sunny day, meeting the gentle challenge of grooming an area of grass with as few unhurried traverses as possible, overlapping each pass by just the right degree and keeping these graceful sweeps as straight as possible is a close to nirvana as a male on a large-bladed machine can ever hope to achieve.