Lawn Free: Bliss at Five Kilometres an Hour

There’s a moment – when man and machine are so completely fused that it is no longer possible to tell where flesh and bone end and steel and oil begin. It’s a kind of alchemy that cannot be imitated and, once lost, can never be retrieved. I had such a bond for a time. Not with a hotted up Commodore, Falcon or even the family Tarago. I had it with a ride on lawn mower.

There’s a moment – when man and machine are so completely fused that it is no longer possible to tell where flesh and bone end and steel and oil begin.  It’s a kind of alchemy that cannot be imitated and, once lost, can never be retrieved.  I had such a bond for a time.  Not with a hotted up Commodore, Falcon or even the family Tarago.  I had it with a ride on lawn mower.

It wasn’t pretty and was far from sleek.  To be honest, it was about as aerodynamic as a box of tissues and when it came to ‘torque’ this thing was almost entirely mute.  In terms of horsepower, it was a broken down old nag destined for the knackery.  With a top speed of five glorious kilometres per hour (downhill, with wind assistance), it was substantially slower than walking.  That, however, was beside the point.  Our ride-on lawn mower represented one thing: freedom.

In a house with two brothers and two sisters, opportunities for solitude were few and far between and mostly located in the bathroom.  The hallway was like Flinders Street Station.  And whilst the thunderbox was one of the few areas of the house that was not a thoroughfare, any respite it offered was necessarily brief.  Were you to linger any more than five or so minutes, impatient little fists would begin to rap upon the door and pointed questions were asked.  At the time, I avoided answering, but let me say now – for the record – ‘no’, I had not fallen in.  I was just trying to get a little peace and quiet.

We lived on twenty acres, most of which my father had fenced off for lawn.  I can say with great certainty that it takes a very long time to mow that much grass.  Like painting the Sydney Opera House, no sooner had you finished shearing the last blade than you had to return to the beginning and start over.  In spring it was especially bad.  The combination of warm weather and moisture meant that the grass re-grew within the hour.  It was like trying to destroy the Robert Patrick T-1000 in ‘Terminator 2’.  There hardly seemed any point in trying.  It could be treacherous, too.  We lived on the remnants of an old orchard, meaning that the landscape came in waves. You could easily become sea sick just by taking a walk around the yard.  It was worse on the mower.  There were many trees and their skeletal branches would claw at you as you went past, ripping your t-shirt.  Then there was the gulag. 

The bottom right hand corner of the yard was nearly always soaked through.  Even during periods of drought.  I’ve often suspected that the day will come in which it will open up as a giant sink-hole and begin swallowing unsuspecting livestock.  In fact, now that I think about it, everything I’ve ever misplaced may, in fact, have been swallowed by the gulag.  It remains the case to this day that when you get to that part of the yard, you’ll likely find yourself beginning to sink well past your ankles as the ground prepares to swallow you whole.  The risk was that once you rode to the right hand corner on the lawnmower, you wouldn’t be able to get out.  It never occurred to me to ask for help.  Having to do so would be to surrender your freedom.

But as dangerous as it was, I was ready.  The ride-on mower was a hulking beast that sounded like the apocalypse once you got it going.  However, getting it started was just the first of many challenges.  Frankly, keys and ignition switches are for lightweights.  Real engines need a ripcord. The term ‘ripcord’ is entirely appropriate as it accurately describes the injury to your shoulder that it causes.  There were whole periods of my youth during which I could barely lift a knife or fork due to ‘ripcord’ injuries and there was no shame greater than being unable to start the mower.  

But once seated astride that mighty mechanical stead, the hours that followed were blissful.  You even had to dress for the occasion.  Using the ride-on lawnmower was always a gumboot job; although what use a thin layer of rubber was going to be against a rotating metal blade probably doesn’t stand thinking about.  We also wore special goggles and noise reducing earmuffs.  It was like having a microphone plugged into your eardrums.  Despite the noise of the engine, the effect of the earmuffs was to put you inside your own soundproof booth.  As a result, the hours I spent on the mower were often accompanied by loud and raucous singing.  It is just as well that we had no neighbours.  There were, sadly, the occasional casualties.  Stray tennis balls or plastic figurines came off not so much second best as a distant last when pitted against the mower’s steel blades of justice.  Ordinarily, destroying something belonging to a brother or sister would get you in trouble.  Not when you were mowing, though.  It was a little like having diplomatic immunity.

When I got a driver’s license, it was surely no coincidence that I bought a Daihatsu Charade – a car that had a lot in common with the ride-on lawnmower, save that it wasn’t quite as fast.  Leaving for University, I took the Charade.  In truth, I should have taken the lawnmower.  Instead, it remained in Tyabb to cut the lawn and do battle with the gulag.  Each year, when spring rolls around and the scent of fresh-cut grass first wafts in through the window, I think about the lawnmower.  It has been a very long time since I’ve had any lawn, much less a mower.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt as peaceful as I did cutting the grass of our back yard.  Perhaps I’ll volunteer.  This summer, as the day draws to a close in Tyabb, look for me sitting on top of a ride on lawnmower, heading off into the sunset.  Ride on.

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