“I grew up in the desert.”
That’s what I tell Folks Who Ain’t From These Parts when they ask. Easier than explaining that there are two Oregons, the one that cradles the Willamette River and the Other Oregon, the Red State, the land of water riots and if-it’s-yellow-let-it-mellow and your shower is on Tuesdays unless you flushed the decrepit toilet the wrong way yesterday and ran the cistern tank dry. In my Oregon, there are no lush summer lawns, no rhododendrons or ferns. Even the blackberries are tiny, oversweet. In my Oregon, you keep an eye on the snowpack not to catch the best skiing days but to gauge if you’ll have a crop at all this summer.
Which is probably why I’m the only Portlander that still welcomes the rain, every time, with an upturned face and a sense of sneaking relief.
Except in the spring. Because in the spring, rain means the First Mowing Day will come. Back home, if you didn’t want a lawn you just… didn’t put water on the ground. Hell, if you did want a lawn you still didn’t put water on the ground because you also wanted to do things like flush the toilet. Here, everything grows. Grows fast, too. I followed the dachshund’s progress through the lawn by watching the waving grass like tracking a lion in the veldt.
And that first mow of spring is like the Secret of Nimh, every time. I can sense the rats moving cinderblock houses with a block-and-tackle assembly. Somewhere, Nicodemus is dying.
It’s like the Secret of Nimh in more than one way, too. Because the damn mower never starts the first time.
My mower is a wonderful contraption, a relic from the era of gas mowers and dads and cursing and blue smoke. I bought it from some friends for a couple hundred bucks when they got a larger yard and I got tired of playing a terrifying game of Tron with my old electric mower.
My mower likes to be warm, so you have to wait for the first sunny day. You have to put brand new gas in and tip him around and wait a bit. Add a spritz of carb cleaner, like the kid at the Chevron station told me that one time when I walked the dog and gas can over on a sunny day while I waited for the mower to bask. Check the piece of tinfoil that re-gaps the spark plug, because they don’t make parts for this mower any more so every year the process is a little bit more Zen and the Art of Lawnmower Maintenance.
And then mow. Or try to; the handle wiggles and if it tilts down it changes the throttle cable. So you have to leave the throttle wide open in the start position and be prepared to stop and tilt the handle up if you hear the motor winding down. Also be prepared for the blades to gum up with wet grass. Then you stop, tilt the mower back, and yank the starter cord. I can do this now without letting go of the handle. It works better if you can drag the mower instead of pushing it- the handle can stay at the right tilt.
But if you do all these things, and sacrifice three virgin kids in the right phase of the moon, you can mow foot-high grass with this mower.