Thursday, May 20, 2021

A "reel" sense of community

Last Thursday, I took advantage of a beautiful spring morning to kickstart my day with some fresh air. I mowed the lawn before logging in to work. 

A mowing snapshot from last summer

Oh, my reel mower, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

  1. It's much lighter weight than a gas- or battery-powered mower. I can just pick it up and carry it, which is sometimes a more convenient maneuver than pushing.
  2. But, it's still a decent arm workout to push it across the lawn.
  3. It's human-powered, which has several perks. With no gas or oil to fill, no battery to recharge, you just get it out of the garage and go. It's ready to mow at a moment's notice. 
  4. The whirring blades are the only noise. Someone can get your attention without having to holler their lungs out. You can mow in the early morning without annoying your neighbors.
  5. If you need to stop -- for conversation, for a water break, to get debris out of the way -- you can just stop and start as frequently as you like without having to get a motor going again.
  6. You can feel good about being earth-friendly and lawn-friendly. The way reel mowers cut reportedly makes for healthier grass.
  7. It's a conversation starter, and that's what really sparked this post.
But first, I'll also share the downsides of using a reel mower, just to give the whole picture.
  1. Sometimes it leaves sprigs standing -- especially taller, thicker stalks of grass and dandelion flower stems. You have to go over some areas twice, or get them with the weed whip.
  2. Same problem if you let your grass get too long. The wheels of the mower are more likely to mash down long grass before the blades can chop it.
  3. Twigs will temporarily jam the blades. It's as simple as backing up so the stick can come loose, but it can be annoying. Take time to pick up debris from the yard first.
  4. You must take the time afterward to clean the mower, which helps keep the blades in good condition. Some of you already take excellent care of your lawn tools, so this is not a downside but rather a given. 
  5. A reel mower doesn't give you that quintessential fresh-cut-grass smell that a power mower does. Maybe because it doesn't shred the grass or heat it as it spits it out the other side. Maybe it's the missing cloud of gasoline exhaust. Anyway, the scent of a reel-cut lawn is lighter, more reminiscent of the grassy air that hovers over a quiet field than the heady mulchiness of hot-mown suburbia. But you can still inhale that childhood aroma as your neighbors cut their grass.
Now, back to mower's being a conversation starter. People see us using it and want to know.

How do you like it? I love it. 

Does it actually cut the grass? Yes, but see notes above. 

How often do you have to sharpen the blades? My user's manual says I could go several years without sharpening as long as I keep the blades clean and in good condition. This is only my second season mowing with it, but so far, so good.

Can I try it? Yes!

That's what happened last Thursday morning. A couple walked by, and the wife said something like, "She's got the mower I want!" So the husband asked me, "Can my wife try that thing?" Delighted to be of service, I let her mow a few strips of lawn for me. Try before you buy. Pushing is believing.

What a great thing about yard work. Meeting the neighbors. It's something Len quickly noticed when we moved into our new old house, something that had been missing in our old neighborhood, where the lawn (and snow) service was included in the homeowner association dues. 

The developer of our previous neighborhood had utopian ideas about a sense of community built into his neighborhood design. Large front porches, where people will sit and gather and chat. Wide sidewalks to easily accommodate two passing strollers. A centralized "town center" of small shops. It didn't happen. People hung out in their tiny, privacy-fenced backyards, barbecued in the alley out of their garage, drove their car one block to the mail room. Businesses fizzled. Sure, we met some neighbors, and the sidewalks were busy thoroughfares on Halloween, but we also lived next door to others we never saw! Without compulsory yard work to bring people outside, people naturally hid inside.

One could argue that if the regular maintenance of the lawn is taken care of for you, you have more freedom to do the fun kind of yard work, tending flower gardens and turning your front porch into a comfortable outdoor living room. We often ate dinner on our front porch. We liked it. But, well. We Americans are prone to maxing ourselves out, aren't we? A rare few of us choose a house we can comfortably afford, while many families buy the most house they can possibly afford, so they're still working long hours just to pay the bills. No time or money for gardening, home improvement hobbies, or just sitting out on the porch waiting for neighbors to stroll by.

I'm not saying people in our current neighborhood are more fiscally responsible. The difference here is that lawn maintenance is another bill to be paid -- you must budget some time and money for it, because it's your own responsibility. Some people put more effort into than others, but the fact remains: If everyone has to be outside at some point, taking care of their respective yards, you will actually encounter each other and be part of a community. It's nice.

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