“That acre needs mowing,” my brother said to no one in particular. He’d been under the weather. I was visiting him at his house in Iowa. We’re twins but it had been years since we’d spent any real time together. I was fortunate to get to visit him and his wife, Sarah for a week this past Autumn at their home in Iowa.
Next thing I knew an engine fired up and Sarah was off and running on their ride on mower outside the living room window. Wow. Cool. I wonder if I could do that.I went outside and took a look. It was cold outside for this California girl. Just about 52 degrees. I grabbed one of Sarah’s jackets and watched, mesmerized as she rode up and down the length of the acre field, grass falling beside the green John Deere. The mower was loud, the air heavy and pregnant with the scent of freshly cut grass.
My brother came over.
“Can I mow something?” I asked.
“Really?” he replied. “You wanna do that?”
“Yeah. I do,” I said, surprising myself. I haven’t ever mowed anything. Sarah finished up the acre she was mowing and stopped in front of us.
“Dayna wants to mow,” David exclaimed.
“Okay, you can mow lot 11,” he said, nodding toward the front of the house. “Come on, I’ll show you.” David showed me how to sit atop the mower. It had two levers in the front that he explained are used for steering. He showed me how to pull the gear to lift up the blades under the body of the mower, how to press the levers forward to go, pull them back to stop. How you pull one back while pressing the other forward to turn. He drove next to me on his quad out to lot 11, a long straight corner acre near the dirt road at the entrance to his culdesac. There was a bit of a gully at the road where I turned in, the tractor dipped and bumped along. I stopped. David showed me how to lower the blade and then said, “Leave the hill. I’ll mow that part. Just mow the level section.” And then he left. He left. I was on my own sitting atop a tractor in the middle of a field in Iowa.
I sat there a moment on the tractor feeling brave, feeling afraid, feeling excited and wanting to prove to myself, and to my brother that I could do this. I looked straight ahead and pressed both levers forward. The tractor took off beneath me, my hair blowing in the wind. Before me grass fell, grasshoppers jumped and moths flew out from the path I cut. When I got to the end of the long straightaway section I saw the neighbor’s property line. I knew I had to turn. I worried about embarrassing my brother and myself when an Amish carriage powered by a single horse clippity-clopped quietly by. A single hand rose in greeting. I gathered my courage and pulled back on the right lever making my turn way too fast and far too wide. The tractor and I flew back toward the other end of the field. I worried about not making straight cuts like I saw on other fields and thought about long stretches of grass I was familiar with – golf courses mainly.
I worked my way back and forth across that acre field, avoiding the hill, sticking to the long straight flat area, leaving long stretches uncut because of my wide turns. How to get back to those pieces? How would it all look when I finished? I worried. But I persisted, running the mower up one side and down the other again and again. I got a feel for what an acre actually is. I began going back over areas I had missed, and along the small gully of creek water that flowed between the field and the dirt road.
At last, I finished. I sat still on the still roaring tractor. I considered what to do next. I saw the hill. I felt a little braver now, having completed most of the section of land. Maybe I’ll just try a little of the hill, I thought as I turned the mower toward the hilly section. the mower slowed a bit. Could I make it up the hill without stalling, falling, failing? I kept going. As I got to the top of the hill, there was a flat section. It felt familiar now. I ran the mower over it. My brother’s going to be impressed, I thought. I’m doing it. I’m doing the hill. And a funny thing happened. As I ran the mower up and over down and back up that hill I learned something new about the mower. I learned I had more control than I’d previously realized. I learned to slow it down by pulling the levers closer to me and speed it up by pushing them out. I learned I could make tighter turns by simply pulling one lever close to me and leaving the other pressed out. The more practice I got, the more confidence I gained. The more confidence I gained, the braver I became.
Soon, Sarah came by in the car. I had just finished the hill. “Hey, I have to go to town. You wanna go?” “Nah, I’m going to finish the gully part,” I told her. “Ah, leave that part for David. But you can do Lot 17 if you want. That needs doing,” she said.
Oh my gosh, I thought, a whole other acre? I didn’t know how long I’d been mowing but it felt like a lifetime.
“Sure,” I said, not wanting to disappoint, and wanting to help out.
“Follow me,” she said. “Don’t forget to lift the blade up.
I raised the blade and turned the tractor up the gully onto the road. I went as fast as the tractor would go, which wasn’t all that fast on a dirt road. Sarah turned onto the main highway. I kept the tractor on the shoulder. Cars passed me by. People really do this? I drove and drove until Sarah pulled up onto another acre lot. This one was wooded.
“This one is a little trickier,” she said as she got out of the truck. “Just watch out for the trees and there’s a long length of wood at the back. I just run the mower as close by it as I can and kinda push it.” I had no idea what she was talking about.
“Okay, Thanks. Have fun.” She yelled as she drove away.
What was I thinking? This acre looked daunting. All of my newfound courage wained and the fear returned. One step at a time I thought. I began at the front of the acre, avoiding the one small tree at the west end. As I mowed, though, I had new skills that came in quite handy. I knew how to move the mower slower and faster. My turns got neater and closer together. There were fewer unmown parts. I flew across the flats now, the wind blowing my hair, the smell of freshly mown grass filling my senses with autumn enthusiasm. I got to the small tree. I turned around and completed a circle. Ha! Crop circles I thought. And then I started to mow circle after circle. I tried a figure 8.
I wondered, will I embarrass my brother? I decided to stop the mower and walk back to the house for some lunch.
“This is fun!” I exclaimed.
“Cool,” David replied.
I made a sandwich, then asked what he thought about crop circles on his land. He laughed and said, “You can do whatever you want.”
Okay, then! I was ready to go. When I got back to the mower, I set myself up to listen to music with my new AirPods. As I rounded one of the smaller trees, one of them flew out. Like a flash, I shut down the mower hoping I hadn’t mown over it. Thankfully I hadn’t, but after retrieving the little earbud I couldn’t get the mower started. Not wanting to bother my brother, I did what any California girl thousands of miles from home sitting on a tractor mower would do. I called my Dad.
“Dad,” I said. I’m mowing!”
“I think I’ve killed the mower. Help?”
“Well, does it have gas?”
“Have you tried turning the key and pressing on the gas?”
“Yes. Oh man, Dad, did I kill It?”
He laughed again. “You’re going to have to tell David,” he said.
I hiked back to the house and issued the bad news.
“Agh, that happens all the time,” David said, “Damn battery. I’ll come get it started.” He drove us over to Lot 17 and got the mower going again. This time, when he left and I began again on my second acre lot, I had something new: experience coupled with permission and newfound freedom. I mowed straight lines, I mowed circles, I mowed with abandon. I felt the wind in my hair and smiled as the grasshoppers, crickets, frogs, and moths moved out of the way of the mower. I listened to music as I mowed. I cried tears of joy. I was in Iowa visiting my twin, and I was mowing!
As I rode over the last section of Lot 17, my heart flooded with delight. I thought about how seldom I do anything just for the fun of it. I vowed to change that. What excellent teachers my brother and Sarah had been. They gave me tips, got me started and let me practice. When I got stuck, they encouraged and gave me permission to try and to fail. They let me know I could do it and they stayed out of my way until I needed them.
I got an idea. I finished Lot 17 and went back to mow the gully section of Lot 11. By now I was stronger, more experienced and more courageous. I still felt afraid, awkward and out of place. I still worried I might embarrass myself or my brother. But I did it anyway. I rode the mower to Lot 11 and began.
Up and down the gully, fanning out with a different pattern now. This was for me. This was for my brother, This was the culmination of the day’s lessons.
Those acres in Iowa, two caring people, a tractor and some time reminded me of all I know of learning, love, and life. Give someone time, motivation and a few tips then set them off to practice. Be there when they falter. Encourage missteps and approximations. Love them up. That is how learning occurs. That, too, is the stuff life and love are made of. I mowed a whole lotta love into that acre, and it showed me a whole lotta love right back.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for a place to share this experience, and my writing. Thank you, Chris, for providing the possibility of this time with David.