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Women Who Mow

When I do yardwork, I mutter. Iím usually cursing the grass or the leaves as if they are enemies hiding in foxholes. ďTake that... Get over here you rotten bastard... hey, where do you think youíre going... you can run but you canít hide...Ē On the other hand, my heart sinks when I behead a daisy or a violet that couldnít get out of the way. I apologize. I try to go around the rest of its family. Sometimes I canít. So my muttering deepens.

Fortunately, my wife mows. Coming home to a lawn she has just mowed offers no satisfaction greater than the image of what I missed. I conjure it: the posture, the pace, the rhythm, the sweat, the flattening calves, the pivoting, the woman directing the roaring beast and killing vegetation all at the same time.

When I drive through the suburbs, I see plenty of women mowing. They wear headphones and listen to songs that were hits at a time when they never could have imagined wrapping their tender hands around such a mundane vibration. Some of them ride, which does nothing for me, unless theyíre riding a combine or a hay rake.

On a hot day, a mowing woman will stop for a drink of water, and any passing man will melt at the sight. Exhausting the tank, she stops in her tracks, uncoils her fingers from the handle, yanks off her cap and either reaches into her back pocket for a kerchief, or, if youíre lucky, grabs the hem of her t-shirt to mop her forehead.

With each blade of grass freshly severed and bruised, the bouquet rises by the acre, dancing with the lethal sweetness of gasoline fumes. Even the worst, weediest lawns glisten with grooming, beg for bare feet, and reveal the color of envy, complementary to any shade of flesh. Across the flat expanse, up the gentle slope, around the muscular roots, the blanket settles in a sigh of silence as soon as she kills the engine.

Men have denied themselves this pleasure for too long. But I have fallen in love with women who mow. All my life, I had seen it as menís work, since my mother never mowed. Now, I think of what my father missed. I never saw dad pouring fabric softener, and I never saw mom tipping gas into a mower.

I ask women about mowing. Most say theyíd rather mow than vacuum, or do any of the household chores. They like what men like: the verdant aroma, the trim tidiness. Some like the sweating. But one woman told me: I donít pump gas and I donít mow grass. That was before her divorce. Another woman snarled at the idea that it was ďmenís work.Ē She said, there is no menís work and womenís work, only work that needs to be done.

With summer upon us again, growth knows no bounds, but it is brought under the whirling blades to please us. And nature serves in unexpected ways.

Paul B. Hertneky writes mostly about food and culture for magazines, newspapers, and radio. His journalistic features and personal essays have also appeared in several anthologies. A freelance writer for fifteen years, he cooks at the MacDowell Colony, holds an MFA from Bennington College, and teaches at Antioch New England Graduate School in Keene, New Hampshire.

Copyright © Paul B. Hertneky.