Caring O’ the Green

My back lawn stretches north to south along the edge of my house, and half again as far to the west. When I look out the window, it’s an expanse of brilliant green in every direction; about 2,000 square feet by my step-off calculations. I could place the Emerald City at its edge and things would look even better than with the field of poppies. I should invite Dorothy & Toto over for a cup of coffee.  Or dress like the Wizard’s guards in one of those head-to-toe outfits while I mow.  Even my lawn tractor is green.

It wasn’t always jade thumbs for me. Growing up, a gardener took care of my parent’s lawn (an even bigger carpet than my backyard Oz). Instead of mowing, trimming, mulching, aerating – all better options in hindsight – my brothers and I commanded weed and leaf patrol. Endless amounts of both packed into endless amounts of extra-large black lawn-n-leaf bags. One summer we helped my dad install a sprinkler system; everything from a rented trencher to miles of PVC pipe. It was a good education in plumbing, but I didn’t learn much about lawn care.  Er – change that up – I didn’t care to learn much about lawn.

When my wife and I bought our first house, caring o’ the green became a proviso, if only to be good neighbors in such close quarters.  We lived on a postage stamp lot in a small neighborhood just south of San Francisco.  (If the lot really was a postage stamp, imagine the size of the front lawn.)  I could mow and edge in a cool fifteen minutes.  Looking back, I get a little nostalgic for my first lawn mower.  It was the simple bare necessities – just a rotating blade and a couple of wheels, connected on up to a pair of hand grips.  The engine was me, and there was neither seat nor steering wheel.  No matter – my “push reel mower” worked just fine when you’re talking postage stamps.

Moving to Colorado, I graduated to a bigger lawn and a gas mower.  A yoga class should include the lunge-like move required to start a gas mower.  Brace with one leg, deep knee bend with the other, arm extended forward (but not locked!), fingers closed lovingly around the cord handle, deep breath, and… PULL!  Sometimes the engine wouldn’t start after several PULLS on an early morning, adding colorful words to my vocabulary.

After that, we moved to the ranch we live on now.  Mr. 2,000-square-feet beckoned out back that first summer, but with my smallish mower I pushed about a five-mile spiral to get him cut (my neighbor still smirks at me today… “city boy”).  Too many years later I graduated to a John Deere ride-on: seat, steering wheel, drink/snack holder – the works.  I even have the matching JD hat so I look like I know what I’m doing.

DO I know what I’m doing?  DO I care enough about my lawn?  Sometimes I wonder, as in a recent Wall Street Journal article, which story-tells lawn care at a whole different level.  Some of my neighbors out there, in what can only be called obsession, take scissors to their grass or pluck the blades by hand.  Others use a vacuum to clean up the scraps.  Still others attach a roller to their mower for a finishing flourish – those light/dark stripes normally reserved for baseball fields.  If I too want to be “extreme” I can purchase the video, “How to Dominate Your Neighbor’s Lawn”.

No, I’m not that guy.  No scissors, no vacuums, no videos.  I’m content to just putt-putt-putt every-other-week spirals around my green, with the occasional hand-rake of the trimmings.  I’ll even admit to using a lawn service to hold back the weeds.  It looks acceptable.  The Wizard of Oz would probably approve and that’s good enough for me.

Dear Little John

Sports Illustrated occasionally puts out an issue titled “Where Are They Now?”, profiling the next chapters of athletes who were once prominent in their given sport.  The latest edition – just this week – fittingly covers the gold-medal winning women’s gymnastics team from the 1996 Atlanta games. I can still picture Kerri Strug landing that perfect vault on a broken ankle; the clinching performance for USA team gold.

If my own friends from twenty years ago wondered “where is Dave now?”, they might stare in disbelief as I navigate my John Deere tractor across acres of ranch property here in Colorado. I like to think of my 42-in. 20HP v-twin hydrostatic front-engine ride as a mean, green, mowing machine. My model D125 chews up the fast-growing grass like a teenager in front of pizza. She’s a veritable beast on wheels.

My wife also has a tractor – a Kubota L4330 “Compact Utility”. Here’s a picture of our babies side-by-side:

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Stop laughing now, and step aside with me for some color fun. If you see a yellow tractor it’s probably manufactured by Caterpillar. If it’s blue it’s probably a New Holland. Red equals International Harvester, (though IH stop making theirs in the mid-1980’s). Then you have Kubota in the bright orange and John Deere in a pleasing shade of green.  As Skittles would say, Taste the Rainbow!

Okay, back to the photo. I confess my little green kitten is dwarfed by my wife’s Transformer mega-monster.  And the stats don’t lie: her Kubota is twice the length and twice the horsepower, and outweighs my Deere by over a ton.  She has a roll bar, which suggests she can go four-wheeling in the fields, or even cartwheel her tractor down sand dunes without the slightest of injuries.  Me?  I pretty much limit my adventure to little circuits around the back lawn.

While I’m at it, I’ll go to full-on confession mode and say my wife is the real tractor pro; not me. She and her Kubota keep the blizzard snow at bay in winter and the pasture grass at a respectable height in summer. My own occasional efforts with the Kubota are far more amateur, but I often make impressive gouges in our dirt driveway.

Last spring my wife rewarded herself with that cab enclosure you see in the photo, complete with side doors and heat.  Maybe I’ll get her a stereo for Christmas.  Maybe I’ll get my John Deere a seat cover.

Country music singer Jason Aldean had a nice hit with “Big Green Tractor”, but I wouldn’t be able to duet with Jason without thinking “Little”.  Craig Morgan also had a hit with “International Harvester”, but I just can’t relate to the lyric “tip your hat to the man UP on the tractor”.  Finally, Kenny Chesney made it big with “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”.  Okay, now we’re talking (er, singing).  Let’s assume my wife feels that way about my Deere, shall we?  I’ll keep wearing the JD colors to show my pride.

Even if it’s just a “little” pride.

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