Back in the Saddle Again!

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Ah, the joys of sitting atop the multiple horse equivalent of internal combustion, casually doing ovals around a track of flowing (and growing) green. Now that the boy is safely ensconced in university environs (if you can call doing a term project in Panama “safe”), I am now able to return to my weekly therapy. Others may call this a chore, but I look forward to mowing the lawn and the wonderful thoughts awaiting me as I go round and round from here and back again.

Besides, to paraphrase Robert Duvall’s Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, “I love the smell of freshly cut grass in the morning” (or afternoon, whatever the case may be). And while Francis Ford Coppola may have been calling his inner Joseph Conrad while making Apocalypse Now, I can’t help but call my own inner Gene Autry as I mount up and ride through the chlorophyll-filled meadow my back yard has become.

Yes, I’m back in the saddle again!

And loving it!

(Oops. That was my inner Don Adams speaking in the shrill accent of Maxwell Smart.)

When it comes to household Americana, there are those who define themselves by inside activities and those who define themselves by outside activities. Perhaps I can thank my father’s teaching, but count me as among the latter. They say, “A man’s home is his castle.” To carry that metaphor further, and very much unlike our medieval brothers, while they maintained the moats surrounding their castles to repel invaders, we maintain the grassy expanse encircling our homes to invite guests. Despite the deskbound necessity required of writing and my daily activities, I truly enjoy working outside.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not afraid of the kitchen, it’s just that I prefer the grill. Besides, as Harry Callahan says in Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” The reality is, I simply don’t have the aptitude for the culinary arts. Don’t believe me? Just read “From a Bachelor’s Cupboard,” (Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, August 31, 1989).

The vast outdoors – if you can consider something under an acre “vast” – has traditionally been looked upon as the domain of the male. This probably dates back to Neanderthal times when the first cavewoman kicked the first caveman out of the first cave because he – and not for the first time – forgot to put the toilet seat down on the first toilet. In these modern times, humanity has lost its natural affinity with, well, nature. Between smart phones, live-streaming, and 24/7 work schedules, we find it increasingly more difficult to commune with our ecosystem.

Except for when it’s time to cut the grass.

There, upon Mr. Deere’s splendor, we ride. And ride. And ride. (Yes, that mere three-quarters of an acre can still take a couple hours, even in the highest gear.) What better than the monotony of mowing and the smells, sounds, and feelings of nature to free up one’s mind from the coaxial umbilical cord. And in that serenity of the long moment, the rigid concrete of everyday life that has atrophied our brain begins to crumble. (To be honest, I don’t know if it’s crumbling because of the serenity or because of the vibrating lawn mower. Which reminds me, is it me, or does that vibrating lawn mower have the same soothing comfort of being rocked gently in your mother’s arms. But I digress…)

With the mind now freed from the nine-to-five (and beyond) burden, synapses start firing in ways they have forgotten. Seeds of ideas long dormant begin percolating and soon blossom with full-fledge clarity. The mind soon fills with a series of interrelated action plans as a new project comes to life.

Experience tells you when it’s time, but you’ll know when it’s time to “take a break for some ice tea and give your tractor a chance to cool down before finishing the job.” This is when you turn the mower off, shed your gloves and hat, and come inside. Sure, you pour yourself a cold one, but that’s only for show. The real reason for your timeout becomes quickly apparent as you nestle in front of the computer and begin typing away.

If you’re like me, your keystrokes might yield something like, “Ah, the joys of sitting atop the multiple horse equivalent of internal combustion,…” You know what I mean. Great ideas hatched from the seat of a moving lawn mower have the same half-life as great ideas hatched as you lie awake in the middle of the night. If you don’t write them down immediately, they’ll evaporate as quickly as the morning dew.

In my life, I’ve found there are only three regular events that consistently allow my brain to relax, forget all the noise around me, and come up with some really fantastic ideas: Cutting the grass, that half hour I’m laying in bed before I fall asleep, and the Sunday Homily. Don’t misinterpret that last one. It’s not a commentary on either the boring or the inspirational nature of the sermon. Neither is it a comment on any particular priest. For some reason, when it’s time for the Homily, I zone out of the outer world and zone into the world of thought.

Also, don’t make the mistake that this is limited to writing. Sure, a lot of it is now, but that’s because, at this stage of my life, writing happens to be my most convenient (and satisfying) creative outlet. In earlier eras, ideas covered everything from model rocket design to play progression in football to move sequence scenarios in chess. Oh, and then there was that time I solved that hardware engineering problem in the middle of the night because I was too tired to fall asleep (go figure).

We all have our secret and not-so-secret “thinktank” venues. Where are yours?

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