An excerpt from "Nature versus Nancy"
by Nancy Sherer

Teenagers are very impressionable. For instance, one July day when I was thirteen I mowed the grass.

When I was growing up, my family lived a long way from town. In fact we lived a long way from the nearest farm, let alone civilization, so we didn't have what city folk would call a lawn. The grass that grew between our house and the trees only occasionally required cutting and on this particular day, I complained that I was bored.

If summer days are supposed to be hot and humid, Minnesota comes through with very meaningful summers. But this particular summer day in July was beautiful. The sky was blue, the air was fresh, and much to my surprise, walking behind the exhaust fuming lawn mower was fun. I enjoyed listening to the ceaseless noise of the small engine every bit as much as I enjoyed my newly acquired Elvis Presley album. There was a deep sense of satisfaction with every swath I cut through the ankle length clover. This, I decided, is the reason people have yards, for the joy of walking behind a lawn mower on beautiful summer days. I knew then that my life would not be fulfilled until I had a lawn of my own.

That dream wouldn't come true for almost twenty two years. In November of 1985, Jerry and I found a house that not only had a huge yard, but was nestled next to a wilderness called Whatcom Falls Park. I would soon have a yard of my own with all the advantages of living in a city and living in a forest. Perfect.

"You have to do all the yard work," Jerry said as we discussed how fast we were going to accept the seller's terms.

"That's the whole point. I want to do yard work."

"But all this grass needs to be mowed and I won't do it."

"I'll do it. I want to do it. That's the whole point of buying a house is to have grass to mow."

"I think we should buy a condo."

"I want a yard."

"But all that grass needs to be mowed."

And on and on went our conversation about the great outdoors.

In January of 1986, we moved in to our new home. Even in the rain forest of Bellingham, Washington, there is very little yard work to do in the winter, but this was my first 'yard' and I was determined to enjoy it. For the next couple of months I picked up windfall branches from the numerous forest trees that grew there or raked debris that filtered into our yard from the park.

There was plenty of windfall to pick up. Two mature cedars, five towering Douglas fir, and three conifers of dubious species created a canopy over my back yard. Beneath all these noble giants was grass. For three months of rainy winter and into blustery spring, always I watched hopefully for the ground to be dry enough so that I could mow the lawn.

In April, I bought my first lawn mower. I bought the smallest basic model with the reasoning that the cutting radius didn't matter. After all, I enjoyed mowing. While I was at it, I needed another machine to tidy around the edges. Because of the size of yard, extension cords wouldn't reach to the back of the lot. A light weight electric Weedeater just would not work so I bought a gas powered trimmer. It was a heavy-duty industrial weed cutter, bigger than I really needed, but it was on sale as a reconditioned professional model. A couple of plastic gasoline cans and some oil to mix in them and I was good to go.

The mower didn't require much assembly, which was good because my husband was still practicing his threats about moving into a condo before he would ever do any yard work. After bolting a few things together, oiling the air cleaner and adding gasoline I attached the spark plug wire to the spark plug then sat down with the operating manual.

Uh-oh. It said not to attach the spark plug wire before use 'to prevent accidental starting.' I hurried back to the garage and detached the wire, maneuvering it several inches away from the spark plug, just in case. That had been a close call. I would not be awoken in the middle of the night by a lawnmower that started accidentally.

The next morning, I wheeled my bright red lawnmower out of the garage. Red was the only color available, but I decided upon purchase, that when I had some spare time I would repaint it a more-attractive blue, or perhaps yellow. I firmly attached the spark plug wire with the smug satisfaction. I was ready to hop up and take the controls should it start accidentally. I was ready to mow.

I held in the dead man's clutch, put my foot on the engine casing like I watched my father do whenever he was about to start his lawn mower, and bent over to pull the cord that would bring the mower to life. Nothing happened. Well, Dad's old lawnmower never started on the first yank either. It seemed, I remembered, that he often had to yank repeatedly. My mower was much more modern than that. Mine didn't require manual wrapping of the cord after every yank. After a dozen tries, I consulted with Jerry, who enjoyed the opportunity of pointing out that we could have bought a condo.

"I can't get the lawn mower started," I told him.

"Keep trying," he said.

"I don't think this engine works. Maybe I should exchange it."

"We should have bought a condo."

I re-read the instructions to give my shoulder muscles a chance to rebuild their supply of ATP. Yes, I was doing everything right. Again I primed and yanked repeatedly.

It sat there silently. I rechecked the spark plug wire, then yanked and yanked again. I don't know how many times I repeated the starting procedure that the manual set out in carefully described and numbered terms. Finally, with aching arms, I walked away, leaving the spark plug wire connected in hopes that it would start accidentally.

I did, eventually, get it started. As I plowed through the long winter grasses, I chuckled continually about the accidentally starting lawn mower. Because the grass hadn't been cut for six months, it was a long chore that wasn't quite as fun as my childhood memory. Still, I had a great sense of satisfaction looking over the closely cropped grass. Where there had been chaos, there was order. What had looked like wilderness, now looked like a golf course. It had been a tough job, but next week would be easier. And until then, I would have the opportunity to learn about my heavy-duty, reconditioned, professional model weed cutter.

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