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Lady With a Lawnmower | The Nation

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Lady With a Lawnmower

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Her hair resembles her lawn, which resembles her hair--faded, frizzy, simple and beautiful. She mows the lawn with a push mower about once a week; the job is slow not fast, careful not quick, quiet not loud. She mows circular, doing a small patch at a time. Neither she nor the push mower are getting any younger, thus the dawn suits the task, especially in the summer, when even the loud, fast "landscapers" take an afternoon siesta, lying under trees dangerously close to parking spots.

This is the second in a series of four essays excerpted from Donna Schaper's Grassroots Gardening: Rituals for Sustaining Activism, published by Nation Books.

About the Author

Donna Schaper
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church in New York City. She is a lifelong gardener and...

Also by the Author

Something very strange has happened to food in the richest country in the world:
It's fast, but it ain't good. And it travels way too far a distance from the field to your fork.

Men in trucks care for most lawns here in Coral Gables. They zoom in and zoom out and make a first-class racket. My own "service" rarely remembers to close the gate on the dog run. I guess they're in too much of a hurry. (The dog loves it.)

When I do whole-cost accounting on her way and my way, I see genuine deficit on my side. Neither of us uses chemicals on our lawn (or hair) so there is no comparison there. Our lawns are about the same size. My service involves three men for two hours twice a month, one truck, one mower, three weed whackers, for a total of $80 a month. They do remove death from the trees. They do strew the lawn furniture all over. The service doesn't cost me in time, unless you add finding the dog, replacing the lawn furniture, writing the check and calling to complain about the gate. But I do pay in the coin of all the fossil fuels, along with the rest of the planet, and the noise does cost me in stress and spirit. Also, I do other work to earn the money to pay the landscapers, and I belong to a gym where I go to get the exercise she gets behind her push mower.

Clearly, she has a bargain, and I do not. It's possible, using this whole-cost accounting, that I pay five times what she pays for lawn care. Her clickety-clack approach has advantages my vroom with a view does not. The advantages are exercise, quiet and cost: In fact she has no cost, save in time directly spent.

Like the Italian slow food movement, she is having idiosyncratic fun. She is preserving a way of life, including her own. I am just getting my grass cut.

When we look at what it costs us to live the lives we live, we are often out of balance. Ozone is really worth much more than gasoline and the thirty miles at fifty miles an hour it may or may not get us. Hauling food from places far away, yes, even oranges from Florida, is wonderful, if costly. The truck and its fuel have to be taken into consideration. When I buy compost instead of build it, I do save the five minutes per day it takes to crush the eggshells into the coffee grounds and chop the banana peels up into small pieces. I also forget about having to take the trash out and earning the money that buying my garden soil costs me.

Fast is expensive in a way that slow is not. Efficient is expensive in a way that inefficiency is not. Oddly, most people love to tell us we are "idealistic" when we are really just being cheap. We don't want to pay so much for the services we don't need. We want to save money for what we do need--and for the occasional great food from far away. Those of us who remember the annual orange in the stocking are not so much worried about losing freedom and the fossil-fueled abundance of options. What we worry about is being able to afford the good things, like air and water and time and balance.

Right now I pay too much and get too little. She gets her lawn mowed at a bargain while receiving all these benefits. I just get my lawn mowed.

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