A Pain in the Grass


Coming downstairs this morning – after stepping in a nice pile of cat puke, thank you – I noticed that our yard needs mowing. Again.

This spring/summer has been a real struggle with my scraggly yard. At least the front is scraggly. The back trends more toward rain forest undergrowth.

Seems like every time I get ready to roll the mower out, monsoon season hits, and by the time Garrett and I get down to business, it’s a long, mower-choking mess. So I guess we’ll have to buckle down and get our grasses out there before the rains hit.

But not just yet. First a little trip in the wayback machine …

Umph. That landing was a bit rough. The wayback might need a little tuneup. But here I am, back in SoBo or, to be precise, Cluster Springs. Don’t know the precise year, but I’m guessing something like 1971 or 1972.

It’s a bright summer day, the grass is tall. I’m at my parents’ house, scrambling to find some cover so no one will see future me. Yes, the yard has trees – I’ll likely get to that later – but they’re really thin. No real protection there. So I head to the woods that surround my house on two sides. I cross the little ravine carefully on the 2x4s we’ve put over the creek at the bottom. No one will see me now.

I don’t have to wait long – a good thing, since it is typically broiling. “Somehow it was hotter then …” and all that.

I spy 14- or 15-year-old Arthur coming outside and rolling the mower out – checking the oil and filling up the gas tank. It was the latest in a series of mowers we had, purchased after I’d succeeded in breaking its predecessor.

Yes, you read that right. I hated to mow the lawn – our yard must have been at least five times larger than the one I have now. I’d put it off until my mom had finally had it with me, then do my best to make the mower fail so I could quit at least until my dad would take it apart and put it back together. Sometimes I’d get to the point that even he couldn’t fix it – in my mind, at least, my dad could fix almost anything.

This mower was different. Try as I might, I couldn’t break it.

Let me amend that. It was broken, but it was not of my doing. Allow me to explain. When we bought it, this was one of them self-propelled lawn mowers. You didn’t push it so much as guide it. Which means you’re basically just walking around the yard making sure it didn’t run into and damage the trees – I sucked at that part, that’s why we didn’t have very much cover in the yard for future Arthur to hide behind. So cutting the grass became a much less odious chore. At first.

When the self-propel part of it broke, things changed. Because the actual grass-cutting part was still in fine shape. And would remain so. We – and by we I mean I – just had to push it now instead of follow it. Only the part that made it self-propel also made it about twice as heavy as a conventional mower.

From my vantage point across the ravine, I saw Past Arthur succeed – again, despite his best efforts – in getting the mower cranked and start at it. The front went smoothly enough. It was fairly level, with only occasional obstacles to go around. Even the hard part didn’t seem too hard that particular day. The hard part was a steep hill to the right of the house. It was treacherous – if the grass was even the least bit damp, you’d easily slip.

Then young me went to the back yard. I wanted to shout at him to call it day. (I knew what happened next.) But I couldn’t. Because of the Butterfly effect, I couldn’t stop what was about to happen because it could change my reality – and I’m more than happy with my reality these days.

So I stayed in the woods and watched as Past Arthur kept mowing, inching closer to the small hole I knew was in the ground. I watched as Past Arthur ran over that hole. Nothing happened right at first; then Past Arthur swatted a bit at his ankle.

From across the ravine I knew what had happened – and would happen. That little hole actually was a nest – a yellowjacket nest. They’d been disturbed. To put it mildly. Past Arthur’s swatting only made the critters madder. They stung and stung and stung him, all up down the legs and arms. He managed to get the mower away and turn it off.

I watched as Past Arthur flapped his arms and rubbed at the stings on his lower legs. I could still feel that pain – it brought tears to eyes that have seen much in the days since.

Then I saw him go inside. I didn’t have to peek in the windows to know what would happen next. The burning from the bites got worse and worse, and Past Arthur decided to see whether first a shower and then a bath would help cool things off. I knew they’d help to a point – to a point where Past Arthur would relax.

That wasn’t a good thing. What Past Arthur didn’t know – but I did – was that I am allergic to yellowjacket venom. It might not have mattered anyway. Because Past Arthur was getting sleepier and sleepier.

I watched, getting frantic, because I knew what NEEDED to happen.next. And it didn’t seem to happening. See, going to sleep would have been terrible. It would have meant that my air passages were closing – or closed. 

Then I saw it. My mom’s red Chevy Vega turned into the driveway. She would call out to me and keep me awake until she could give me a shot of epenephrin and then get me to her doctor’s office – she was a nurse. They’d fix me up in a hurry …

Back in 2013 now. I’ve only been stung by yellow jackets a time or two since that day – and never had multiple stings or that type of reaction. That doesn’t mean I don’t still think about that day every time I cut the grass.

Which I’m about to do …

“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.” _ Walt Whitman

“Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. Shovel them under and let me work – I am the grass; I cover all.” _ Carl Sandburg

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