Getting Outside Saturday: The Hissing of Summer Lawns

categories: Cocktail Hour / Getting Outside


Actual footage

I mow as little as possible, or actually quite a bit less than as little as possible.  My lawn is only partially grass, and you don’t really need to mow moss, or cinquefoil, or gill-over-the-ground, or white clover, or all those other things probably ever.  But to keep the forest at bay, to keep the historical clearing, to keep light on the garden, to make a place for tumbling, and then soccer in the fall, well, you gots to mow.  Last year I used 2.5 gallons of gas to do it.  The whole summer.  But it was dry-ish.  Crazy lawn this year.  Anyway, this is a mowing poem.  The smell, the heat, the boredom, I recall those days forty-five years ago when I mowed the Smith’s lawn for $2.50, and the Holmes’s lawn for $2.00.  Neither took me long.  You’d walk the neighborhood with the machine, a rotary roar machine, very proud of your status as a working man.  Green sneakers, that’s what you’d end up with.  And green fingers from clearing the chute.  And rocks flying a hundred yards when you nailed them, and the roar.  Also the stripes of lawn, 24″ at a time.  You worked out the most efficient pattern over time, and knew right where all the stumps and rocks were, and right where the swan hid next to the pond, the one that chased you up the hill in a swan rage.  If your sprinted, you could do a two-hour lawn in fifteen minutes, meet your girl for a smooch, and no one the wiser.  Today, my friends, I know there are suburban neighborhoods where I’d be in big trouble, but I love to let the dandelions go, the black-eyed susans, the daisies, queen-Anne’s lace, the hawkweed, the fabulous hawkweed, then the grass itself.  What’s more lovely than a grass plant in flower?  When I finally mow it’s more like haying.  But you do have to keep that athletic field open when your kid is 12!  She follows the mower doing cartwheels in the fresh.  And come morning I’ll rake up the cuttings and mulch the asparagus.  It’s a mine, that lawn, and spins gold. 

Grape pergola, 48″. Mower deck, 46″. Full steam ahead!


Run chickens, run!


The purpose of mowing revealed, or, John Deere ad.


Still life with handspring, chicken house, and Crocs.


I’ll have to mow this later… (daisies, hawkweed in two colors)


Bill Roorbach has been mowing lawns since 1963. 



  1. Susan writes:

    When I was a teenager, my dad assigned two of my brothers and me sections of the yard to mow twice a week. Dad was very picky about his suburban lawn. At 16, I was horrified to be given the front yard, where the whole world could see me dripping sweat behind the push mower. My brothers had the backyard. They never agreed on the vertical dividing line, which meant there was one strip of grass left unmoved down the middle every time. Dad came home and blew a gasket… every time. Loved your piece and the priceless photos. Your pergola looks great for such narrow clearance.

  2. Bill Lundgren writes:

    while having the same attitude towards mowing (gardens vs. grass is an easy call), there’s gold in that green grass–for the compost.. So I happily collect all my neighbor’s grass clippings, long as they haven’t put poison on it… makes the compost pile smokin’ hot.
    always enjoy your musings Bill…

    • Bill writes:

      it’s great how hot grass clippings get in the compost pile. I mix it down, though, and it’s also amazing how fast a bucket of kitchen scraps turns into soil in that environment. Like two weeks?

  3. ryder ziebarth writes:

    LOVED that essay. Remember the rotary blade push mowers? That was how I earned my weekly quarter (10 cents of which had to go in the padre’s basket every sunday, September – June –Episcoplainians don’t go to church in the summer, so then the whole stash went to the Good Humor man).But truely, I wish I could still do a cartwheel. I’d settle for that fabulous handstand, but not sure the wrist could take it. We’ll see, After I mow this afternoon. Thanks, Bill.

    • Bill writes:

      Thanks, Ryder. I do remember those things. You had to push two or three times per patch of grass, take a step and do it again. Unless the grass was already short. They’re making ’em again for purists who want to use no gasoline. Sheep work, as well, but fart a great deal. I can only cartwheel downhill and into the ocean, the only safe landing.