The meadow is bathed in morning dew when I fire up the DR Brush Mower. After three hard pulls on the starter cord, the Briggs and Stratton roars across the silent valley. I engage the driver chain and mower belt, sending horizontal blades whirling across damp knapweed and dandelions along the flat lower end of the meadow. With good ear protection the engine becomes a stultifying roar.
The DR is designed for one thing—to keep relentless biological succession from reclaiming human engineered landscapes. But my relationship to this colossal gasoline powered locust is more complex. The reverberating engine, the vibration in my arms, the exhaust, the sweat, the slow walk behind the handles all swirl together into an incongruous meditation. This is when the questions begin. This is when the going gets hard.
Why am I mowing and not letting the meadow revert to the old forest it once was? My reasons are superficial: to control the knapweed, to lower the fire danger, to make the property look inhabited. Yes. But also: to be a good son, to be a good great-nephew to Johnny, to be a good steward of the place he left us, to gain approval from the living and dead. Yes. But also: to feel the salty seep of sweat in my armpits, to feel the pull on my arms, to accept the overlain “Puritan Work Ethic” and know there is nothing puritanical about ass-busting work that feeds my animal self with unreasoning joy.
Why am I here? Because I was born and have miraculously managed to remain alive, the oldest son of my father who is ill and will be leaving this sun-drenched earth sooner than later, my father who will be leaving me, by accident of birth order, to become the unwilling patriarch of my immediate family.
Why was I born first? I wasn’t. My older brother, Tommy Glen, died over six decades ago of congenital heart issues that caused him to struggle for oxygen. He was four months old. He struggled even in this blue-green envelope of abundant oxygen that supports the lives of so many. Why did you leave so quickly? Did you know deep inside your small malformed heart that you could never mow the meadow when Mom and Dad grew old? Did you know even then that I would follow and eventually trudge my briny body behind the DR?
Back in the parking lot, I kill the engine. My questions die in the silence. Heat rises. The morning dew vanishes. Windrows of knapweed lie on the meadow to brown in the oven of an oncoming heat wave. I stand for a moment, soaked in salty unreasoning joy.