"I'm going to have to mow the lawn before Jim returns," my sister remarked during a game of Frisbee with our three dogs. It was mid May and the weather had been particularly wet -- causing a growth surge in all things green and lush. I was visiting her for a week while Jim, her significant other, was in Minneapolis for a week on business.
The lawn that needed mowing was the lawn I had grown up mowing, and consists of about an acre of grass with enough trees and bushes so that anyone mowing cannot go in a straight line for very long. I had spent a good number of years helping my father mow that lawn, beginning in junior high school and lasting until I went off to college. Then, off and on over the next 30 years, I would mow the lawn when I was visiting, and more frequently after my father died.
There had been a brief respite from my mowing chores back in the 9th grade when I forgot that our new power mower had a two-cycle engine. I mowed the entire yard without adding oil to the gasoline, and it caused the engine to seize and need replacing. My father was appropriately furious, but at the same time impressed that I had voluntarily mowed the yard while he was away on business. Thus I was not severely scolded, and I was even rewarded by not having to mow for several months.
The early years of my childhood filled with visions of my father working in his more than ample garden, mowing grass with his manual push-mower, and generally enjoying all of the outdoor activities that are demanded by gardens and large landscaped yards. Power mowers, tillers, leaf blowers, shredders, and other gas-powered devices were not all that common in those days, if they existed at all, so we had none of them for the first ten years of my life. That was fine with my father. He felt that these things were expensive luxuries that denied people the benefits of good hard physical work. I have never shared this opinion.
I was thinking about this and my sister's comment as we later drove through the suburbs on a mid afternoon spring day. It seemed like everyone was out mowing, trimming, pruning, mulching, planting, weeding, and fertilizing their lawns so that their grass would grow faster and need to be mowed more frequently. It reminded me of women who spend considerable time and effort each day primping and putting on makeup, only to have to redo it the next day or even later the same day. Some lawns, and some women, look really nice for a short time afterwards, but is it really worth the effort? I say, no, unless your value system emphasizes transitory visual enhancement.
Since I am not a woman and do not have a lawn, I have at least two things for which I am thankful. I'm thankful because I hate spending time doing things that have to be redone on a fairly regular basis. To me this is a waste of my valuable time and energy, and it does nothing to promote the concept of productivity. Productivity has to do with value added to something, and if the value added is short lived and aesthetic, then I don't consider that much productivity has been achieved.
That doesn't mean that I don't try to make myself look presentable. It does mean that I spend very little time doing so. And when I do get a complement on how I look, it is always because of something I purchased to wear, and never because I spent 15 minutes in the shower scrubbing my body. Daily bathing is one of those repetitive tasks that, rather than adding value, prevents you from devaluing your immediate environment.
There are more than enough necessary repetitive tasks in my life without having to create additional ones by having a lawn. I have to periodically clean my house, eat, brush and floss my teeth, bathe, do laundry, wash dishes, buy groceries, pay bills, go to the bathroom, and sleep. Sleeping is a biggie. Some repetitive activities are not necessary, but are done because we enjoy them. Sex comes to mind. Sex is not as repetitive in my life as I would like it to be. Some people like to periodically change partners in order to reduce its repetitiveness, but these people probably mow the same lawn every weekend.
When I question people who frequently do yard work, they often claim that they do it because they enjoy doing it. I think they are lying. If you rounded up every person who truly enjoys mowing the same lawn every week, you probably couldn't fill all the seats at Carnegie Hall. People who think they enjoy lawn mowing probably have lives and jobs void of tangible results. Lawn mowing does have immediate visible results, but most people mow their lawns because of peer pressure, spouse pressure, societal expectations or local laws. Try moving to the suburbs and not mowing your lawn.
In less time than it takes most people to mow their lawn, I was able to write this story. Is this productivity? Perhaps not, but I sure as hell won't have to write it again next weekend.
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The July 2003 issue of Discover Magazine reported the following: "The 50 million lawns in the United States consume 270 billion gallons of water every week – enough to give everyone in the world a shower four days in a row. Each year, those lawns are slathered with 67 million pounds of pesticides and mowed by machines that use 580 million gallons of gasoline."