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Yardsmithery

by Brian Clarey

Yardsmithery

The apricots have worms, mucilaginous, maggoty things that are turning the sweet apricot flesh into rotten, brown dung.

It’s a terrible disappointment, as you can imagine. The discovery comes just as the apricots reached their seasonal peak, and it’s not as if we haven’t sprayed for bugs. Oh, we’ve sprayed for bugs, with this vile, organic, fish-gut-smelling oil that you might think would discourage anything from eating whatever it touches. But these mealy little squirmers are sneaky and hardy — you must constantly defend your crop against them.

I learned the sad state of the apricots while making my paces with the lawnmower this weekend in the odd, vaguely psychedelic pattern that’s evolved over the years. Lots of men complain about their yardsmithing duties, and I am no exception. But there is something extremely satisfying about bringing an unruly lawn into line with mower and weed whacker, trimmer and rake.

I won’t forget the first time I ran a mower over the yard. It was 2003 — Lord how the time has passed — and we had just bought our little ranch house in the northeast part of town. As former apartment dwellers, our only experience as landed suburbanites had been long ago, when we were children, watching our fathers do the honors.

My own father was not much of a yardsman. I have a few hazy memories of him hacking away at the shrubbery with an ancient electric hedge trimmer, a mental image of one of those yellow pushmowers bereft of internal combustion leaned against the back og the garage. But by the time I was 10 my father had outsourced our landscaping needs — not that it had a visible effect on the appearance of the yard. Our lawn was always dotted with bare ground, soft moss and the type of green ground cover that looks fine once cut down, but is certainly not grass.

Back to the new house. After a couple weeks of watching the lawn reach a state of unkemptness, I figured I needed to do something. I borrowed a mower — I had not a single piece of yard equipment at the time — fired it up and had at it. I remember my wife watching from the front stoop with a look of bemusement. I couldn’t stop laughing as I pushed the mower across the thatches of grass that had taken over the yard. It just seemed so absurd: Me! Pushing a lawnmower across the front yard! Of my own house! I remember she took a picture to preserve the moment.

I now know that there’s nothing funny about yard work. Nothing at all. These days I carry a full landscaping arsenal: trimmers, a blower, a new weed whacker with a refitted head. And then there’s the lawnmower itself, purchased new for $150 all those years ago. Since then I have cut my lawn with it hundreds of times. It is possibly the most useful item I’ve ever bought in terms of value, with the possible exception of my coffee grinder.

There’s something about cutting the lawn… the mindless adherence to the pattern, the drone of the motor, light fumes of gasoline and the smell of freshly cut grass. It’s hypnotizing, and many a man finds himself in a state of deep contemplation as he tames his yard.

I find myself revisiting failures, evaluating past decisions, contemplating fears of the future. The sight of a particular patch of grass can awaken a cache of melancholy lodged deep in my psyche. The angle of the sun can trigger painful memories.

My neighbor, another reluctant yardsmith, put it best. “Lying awake in bed at night has got nothing on a man and his lawnmower,” he said late one afternoon after we had both made our weekly cuts.

It’s not all sorrow and despair — in fact it’s entirely possible to reap positive gains from a lawnmower meditation session, construct workable plans, envision bright, beautiful things, wrestle with difficult problems as the clippings fly.

And there is definitely something about a freshly manicured yard that gives me a deep sense of well being. It’s a taming of nature, a triumph of a man over his property, conveying the message that things over here are definitely squared away. Even if they are not.

But then a little thing will happen, like worms in the apricots. Not a huge deal — they’re just apricots, after all, like $3 a pound in season at any grocery store. It’s not like a soured apricot crop is going to ruin my life, or even my summer. And there’s always new bug sprays or tree spikes or netting that I can employ in the future. There’s always next year.

And there’s always my peaches, inching toward fruition in the corner of the yard, hard and green for the moment but beginning to blush with an early-summer rouge. They’re swelling on the branch as I write. And as far as I can tell, they have not succumbed to the blight of worms.

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