(Author’s note:This story was originally published in Saltwater Texas, and was an award winner in that year’s Texas Outdoor Writer’s Association’s “Excellence In Craft”competition.)
Unlike some folks who do their best thinking in private areas of their homes, I get some of my deepest mental work done while aboard the “lawn tractor” – a fancy name for a grass cutter – riding in circles around our 2.6 acres in beautiful Oyster Creek, Texas. Well, I don’t have to mow all of it, because we have a house and other buildings on top of some of it. I also don’t get that many opportunities to be profound in my thoughts, because my wife seldom lets me mow – she thinks it takes me too long. A lot of the time, instead of arguing about it, we turn the mowing over to my good buddy and crewman, “Six Pack” Jack. Six Pack is a mowing virtuoso, and he works cheap. Sit a cooler of beer where he can swing by occasionally, and if you don’t latch it he can snatch a cold one on his way by while barely slowing down, just like I’ve seen him reach out with the gaff and execute a perfect head shot on a king running cross-transom at speed. The act of mowing seems to have a similar effect on Six Pack’s thinking, because he comes up with some interesting concepts after a day on the grass. My wife thinks it’s the beer, but Six Pack paraphrases one of his favorite singers – Bob Dylan – to explain why this activity is so thought provoking. Of course, Six Pack pronounces Robert Zimmerman’s stage name as “Bobby Drillin”, and swears to have it on good evidence the singer is directly related to TV’s Marshal Matt Drillin, of Gunsmoke fame, except “from the short, wormy lookin’ side of the fambly.” At any rate, when asked how he thinks up some of the wild stuff he hits me with from time to time, he references cutting our grass, and states solemnly that “the answer, my friend, is mowin’ in the wind.”
To be honest, he once thought the song was written by the group that had a big hit with it, “Peter, Paul, & Marriot”, the ones who made the chocolate covered coconut candy?
Six Pack’s time on the mower has been short the last year or so, also. First, it was so dry after Ike that we didn’t need to mow until the following April, obviously a wind related occurrence. When my boat was destroyed by that same storm, I tried to help Six Pack get a ride as crew on some other charter boat, but the economy, fishing regulations, and fuel prices have severely impacted the fishing business. Many of these can be considered wind related if we try hard enough. And the wind also directly and adversely impacted offshore fishing by blowing so hard and so long this past spring. My once proud deckhand has been forced to TAKE A REAL JOB, at Port Freeport, where they import enough of those giant wind turbines and blades each day to kill every bird in South Texas. More wind impacting our lives.
By taking my turn on the mower, I find it has a very calming influence as well. To me it is similar to dragging a spread of marlin lures in slick water along the 100 fathom curve, with the rattling of the mower coming close to the clattering of good diesels. My property is riddled with holes caused by horses galloping across it years ago in wet weather, and these produce a bounce sort of like skimming over a set of 1 – 3 footers at speed in a deep vee. If you hit a fire ant hill in tall grass if can seem like bouncing over a 5 footer. I’m thinking about dragging a couple of Softheads – hook-less of course, behind the mower to enhance the effect.
I haven’t always felt this way about mowing. As a child, my father’s plan for controlling the growth of summer grass was to buy the cheapest of the early used riding mowers he could find. He’d spend hours getting one of those things to crank and sort of run, then put me in the seat and head me into the fray. Normally it would run several feet before coughing to its death – which was always MY fault. The fall back plan was to get out the even older push mower. I discovered that even a relatively young child can mow close to an acre fairly quickly with a push mower, no mater how dull its blades – provided he is in enough fear of the screaming manic running alongside him. I was so traumatized towards anything mechanical – and lawn mowers in particular – that I didn’t own one myself until I was in my 40’s. As a parent, I had my own memorable experience with my son. I was pushing a rental mower one hot summer morning, and my son kindly brought me a glass of water. I mentioned to him that he was certainly big enough to walk behind the mower, and would he like to finish up for me? He looked at me somberly and said I had told him all his life of how I had been abused by the mowing process, and would never force a child of my own to do such terrible things. He gave me a hug, said, “I love you Dad”, and went back to his cartoon shows. At least he brought me a drink, even though it seemed to be just lukewarm tap water.
Nowadays, I am much calmer. I enjoy a good, cheap cigar while mowing, and it helps to keep the mosquitoes out of my face. New mowers have drink holders, cruise control, and plug-ins for various music devices. I am trying to fit a sunshade on mine strong enough that the wife can’t knock it off driving under low tree limbs – maybe one of welded aluminum, with a fiberglass top – and I do have a radar and GPS laying around I have no other use for right now. Mowing is something you can do in just about any weather, unlike offshore fishing, and it allows you to get a good sunburn even on days when it is too windy to go offshore. In fact, the only reason mowing in a storm is not recommended is the possibility of wet grass from rain or storm surge. Wet grass packs around the blades and hinders mowing. I also find that bouncing on the mower all day hurts my back almost as much as a bumpy ride offshore. Oh, the memories!
Some of my thoughts while mowing were that wind can truly be the death of fishing. Too much wind, or from a bad direction, can make the seas too rough to go offshore, push the tides out too far to float a boat in winter, or raise the tide so high as to cause flooding. In my area, a west wind muddies the water and causes a cross chop across your bow if you are running due south, as you mostly should be. An east wind moves the current – and masses of seaweed – down the beach, driving long rod surf fishermen crazy. Lately the hot air produced wind blowing from Washington has stopped a lot of fishing, as you can catch almost as many fish from my mower as you are legally allowed to bring to the dock. All I know of I need to legally mow are the two “G’s” – gas and grass. For offshore fishing as a charter operator, I need a captain’s license, TWIC, insurance, life jackets of the proper type and number, a drug test card, an alcohol test kit, equipment for releasing turtles, venting tools to release fish, and the correct type of hooks to use. When mowing, I try not to run over turtles, but otherwise don’t give them much thought.
At the end of the day, when looking back at the nicely clipped grass, instead of the foaming white wake behind the boat as we near the jetties, I begin to wonder if little Bobby Drillin and Six Pack may be right. Much like the question pondered by scholars for many years – “What if the Hokey-Pokey really IS what it’s all about?” – maybe the answer really is “Mowin’ in the w