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GENERATIONS: Sue Bruns: Another season with the Dixie Chopper

The first mowing of the season means that for the next few months, I’ll spend several hours each week on the seat of the riding mower. By the end of the season, cool autumn temps and early sunsets will leave me stiff and cold when I climb off the Dixie Chopper and head for the hot tub to thaw my blood. But in May, the first few mowings are a welcome task of spring and summer.  

The pungent, sweet smell of fresh-cut grass hangs in the air as I make my rounds -- up and down along the lakefront, a few swipes to clear the path through the woods, and then the mindless laps around the big grassy area that has, over the years, been the blank green canvas for softball games, volleyball, croquet and frisbee. More recently, the primary action on this wide-open space has been the actual mowing of it.  

The thermometer read 72 degrees when I left the house, but the stiff breeze off the cool lake makes me glad for the windbreaker I put on before heading down the hill. The lake is brownish gray today; the sky, full of clouds that dim the spring sun. A pair of Canada geese ride a wave just off the shore, and two skittish wood ducks flash white wings, disturbed by the mower. I watch for the master rider of the wind and am not disappointed. White flash of head and tail above me catch the wind and float into the south breeze. The eagle flaps his wings a few times, glides out, and disappears over the lake.

In the fall, wind off the lake clears the area of leaves, so the first spring mowing doesn’t involve the same mulching of oak and birch leaves as other parts of the lawn. Mowing the green space is an exercise in meditation.

The nagging list of undone tasks that woke me at dawn and wouldn’t allow me to drift back to sleep has shaken into a plan. On the mower, I don’t worry about things not done. It is the action of doing, the proof of progress in the diminishing area yet to mow, that allows my mind to clear.

The mower hums steadily, it’s volume muffled by orange earplugs topped by well-padded sound suppressors. I operate not in silence, but in the mower’s insulated white noise. I find my pace, concentrate on the patterns I carve in the season’s early grass -- up and back, west and east -- and when the space can be outlined, my route becomes a large, irregular picture frame.

Sitting in a quiet room and attempting to meditate has always been difficult for me, but on the Dixie Chopper, with the muffled rumble of the motor beneath me, my mind is free to reflect or not, to remember, to contemplate, or just to idle -- without the distraction of cable news or flags flying at half staff for the latest mass shooting.  

I settle into the well-defined pattern I’ve established, each lap a little shorter as the concentric outline grows smaller and the perimeter shrinks. My mind doesn’t dwell on any singular idea.  Sometimes it drafts a poem that will be mostly forgotten by the time the grass is cut. Other times, it visits a mental photo album of memories on the lake: the launching of kayaks from the lake shore; evenings in mid-August, lying on the grassy hill during meteor showers; summer birthday celebrations; back-to-school picnics by the lake; our son’s wedding party posing for silly pics on a breezy September day. With each turn of the mower, a new page of memories is turned, while I am in my own zone, accomplishing something -- as is clear by the ever-shrinking patch of grass yet to mow.

I’ve been mowing this lakeside field for 30 years, I realize with simple calculation. Sometimes I wonder how many more years I will Etch-a-Sketch my patterns with “The Chopper” in this monstrous lawn -- as many as I’m able, I guess.

After all, the riding mower does most of the work, and it’s pretty cheap therapy.