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Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
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Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Labyrinth of Lawn

I used this phrase a few days ago in a comment, and can’t stop thinking about it. The comment was at the Dirt Divas blog, and the subject was gardening as a solace in time of trouble. The Dirt Divas have a name similar to the group I belong to, Austin's Divas of the Dirt, but these divas live in Alaska.

So my thoughts concern mowing, but they're not about the current Lawn versus No Lawn discussions. It’s an interesting topic, but it’s not mine. I’ve been thinking about what happens to your mind when you’re engaged in something like mowing.

When I was a teenager, I occasionally pushed a mower for my parents, but my husband cut the grass once we bought a house, and my sons took over as time went on.

In the late nineteen-eighties, the garden grew more important, and we bought a mower that I could handle. I took over the lawn like a prairie version of May Dreams' blog photo, in denim skirts and a wide-brimmed hat.

One reason to mow: When you're mowing, your family is less likely to interrupt you with the usual demands. The dads mow in suburbia, so when a mom does it, it must be an important job. The sound isn't pleasant, but it becomes a white noise, blocking out the background. I couldn’t hear the airplanes on their way into O’Hare; I couldn’t hear the phone; I couldn’t hear car motors; I couldn’t hear any squabbling. I could think. Some of my best garden plans were developed as I went back and forth and around, mowing my yard, looking at everything from changing angles, noticing and evaluating and concentrating.

Another reason to mow: I knew what was out there and how close to get. I didn’t accidentally mow down struggling young lilies and hostas as weeds, because I was the one who planted them. I also saw things that were not ‘right’ as I passed - catching a shrub before it smothered another, or stopping a perennial before it completed a takeover move.

A possible reason to mow: A non-self-propelled mower means some load-bearing exercise. I use a mulching mower and overlap the lines, and don’t put grass in yard bags.

A sad reason to mow: In the months after my dad died, I could act normal most of the time, but once I started cutting the lawn, the tears wouldn't stop. Was it because mowing was something my father did, for as long as I could remember? Even in his last years, Dad would use his cane to steady himself as he climbed aboard the riding mower.

Or was it the action of mowing, the walking and the formation of patterns in the grass that released bottled-up feelings? In retrospect, now that I see labyrinths designed for walking appear everywhere, at retreat houses, on church grounds and in meditative gardens, this idea seems pretty likely.

Am I alone in feeling like this? Do you mow and think, or mow and plan, or mow and weep, or do you let someone else walk the Labyrinth of your Lawn?


  1. Annie, you never cease to amaze me. Now you've written a beautifully philosophical musing on lawn mowing.

    I've never had a lawn so big that I could enter that Zen-like state while mowing it. My past lawns took only a few minutes to mow. (In-town, city living = small lawns.) And currently I have no lawn at all. But that Zen-like state does come from gardening in general, which is one of the reasons I love it.

  2. Mowing as traversing a labyrinth. Hmmm. Maybe this will get my butt out there and give my long suffering Mark a reprieve.

  3. One of my boys mows the lawn. It's not the same boy as it used to be, and I find he doesn't do as careful a job. Mostly, the edges are shaggy, which I attribute to lack of experience/fear of mowing garden plants. I haven't complained, because he has to mow a lot of lawn with a walk-behind brush mower.

  4. I mow almost an acre (although probably more than 1/3 of it are in gardens/beds). I use a push mower, and do it myself. Friends/family are always saying
    'get a riding mower' or 'pay someone to do it', but I ignore them. It's a total zen thing for me - oddly quiet (considering all of the noise) and contemplative. I am attached to mowing my own little Labyrinth.

  5. I definitely think, plan, and work out problems when I am mowing. I talk to myself, I sing (poorly!) I laugh. I observe the trees, shrubs, and plants. I get into a zone of my own.

    You've done a wonderful job of putting into words how I feel about mowing. I love it.

    I even tell people at work that I have to go home and mow the grass so I can work out a problem or think through idea. As in "I'll give you an answer after I mow the lawn".

    Thanks for a great post.

  6. Lyrical lawn-mowing--so like you, Annie.

    I've always been the one to mow the lawn and I've always found it to be an excellent time for meditative thinking just as you do.

    Mowing the lawn is like vacumning a room. Both transform a space by providing a clean, horizontal surface that's restful to the eye. I think I'll be getting a new mower soon. I really miss my mulching mower. I think I use the mower more to grind up fallen leaves than to mow grass--of which little remains after last summer.

  7. I liked mowing the lawn when I lived in the city. It was a repetitive mindless task that got me outside doing some exercise. It was not like gardening for me, because I have to think about what I am doing when I garden. Maybe some people don't. Mowing was a bit like running on a treadmill for an hour, except that at the end you had something to show for it.

  8. My straw hat might not fit after these compliments. It's an interesting experience to put my thoughts out there for other gardeners to see, and an even more interesting experience to have them be understood. Thank you all.


  9. Annie, yes, you've outdone yourself this time! My feelings exactly. There are times (late summer)I wish I didn't have to mow my third of an acre but the chore never fails to give me an hour of uninterrupted mind-roaming time. And you're so right about being able to notice the little things in the garden that need to be done. Mowing is such a part of gardening for me. A couple of years ago I let one of the neighborhood boys do it as he was trying to earn money for Disneyland. I couldn't wait to take it back the following year with the excuse that "I need the exercise". True, but my mind needed the exercise too!

  10. I guess I'm a bit slow on the uptake, but I just noticed the photo of the youngster mowing... As you remember, that mower stayed in IL when you headed south; it replaced an ailing one I had received from JZ to replace the ailing one I had received from you when I bought the house. I took it for its last mow of the season just this past Sunday. The motor still runs great, but the body's really rusted and may not take any more patches. It still drowns out the sounds of O'Hare's jets...

    I like to mow in concentric circles around the various garden obstacles. Straight rows are for the unimaginative!

  11. What a great post...one from before I found your blog and never caught up with. I loved mowing when my kids were young...it was my "quiet time" as people have said. My kids all knew it was not safe to be out there when I was mowing (fear of something being flung by the blade) and if they did venture out to ask a question I'd just yell "I can't hear you...go ask your father!" I've never had enough lawn for it to be much exercise or meditative but it did help me keep an eye on things and I've always had weird shaped garden beds...I never wanted to ask anyone else to mow around them!

  12. MayDreams Carol was so sweet to link to this 2006 post! Thank you for coming to look at it, Leslie. It seems to resonate with some of us ;-]


  13. I enjoy mowing for many of the same reasons you gave. As a stay-at-home dad it gives me a break by myself to think and enjoy the outdoors. To combat the loud noise of the mower I hook up my MP3 player and listen to whatever music I have in it on shuffle. The time passes very quickly and sometimes I wish I had more to more...but that's just sometimes. ;)

  14. That should have said "more to mow." :)


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