Mowing is a pain in the ass.
My dislike for mowing began early when my father insisted I mow the lawn. I protested about the unfairness of it all, but he pointed to the food I ate, the bed I slept in and the clothes I wore. He always fought dirty like that.
I would grumble about how none of my friends were forced to do such menial labor, stomp outside, crank the mower, and cut the grass. And wave at my friends also mowing their yards while grumbling about the injustice.
One day, a neighbor asked if I would mow his lawn. I groaned. Then he mentioned cash. Suddenly I loved mowing lawns. I showed up every week without prompting. No grumbling. No protests.
When I suggested to my father that I should get paid the same amount for mowing our own lawn, the response was something about food, bed, and clothes.
As an adult, mowing once again became a chore. Some of our houses had big lawns requiring riding lawn mowers. Others were small enough to push mow. One was so small it could be mowed in 15 minutes – including the time to roll the extension cord out to plug into the mower. While I loved the short mowing time, I didn’t like being so close to my neighbors.
So now I have a tractor. Diesel engine. Wide mowing deck. Agricultural tires. A roll bar – a critical component to today’s story. A front-end loader and a box blade for the times the tractor is being used for things other than mowing. Somewhere in the background I can hear Tim Allen grunting approval.
A tractor is needed because we no longer have a lawn. We have acres of grass – pasture land, only without the livestock. Not unless you count when one of the neighbor’s steers comes wandering over to see if the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence, a nearly annual event.
Tom and Judy Alexander had run Cataloochee Ranch inside the newly formed Great Smoky Mountains National Park but wanted to find private land for their ranch away from the many government restrictions inside the park. In 1938, they purchased a sprawling parcel of land on Fie Top Mountain from a potato farmer, Verlin Campbell, and relocated Cataloochee Ranch. The ranch continues to be run by Mr. Alexander’s grandchildren. (If you are interested in the history of this area, the early days of the park and the history of Cataloochee Ranch, I highly recommend the book Mountain Fever by Tom Alexander (Amazon Affiliate Link). The book sits on my bookshelf, well creased from multiple reads.)
Since running a ranch on the top of a mountain required significant labor in the summers, Mr. Alexander devised winter projects to keep his best employees working year-round so that he didn’t lose them. One of those projects was clearing our land for pasture back in the 1930’s.
Interestingly, that same desire to keep his employees working through the winters led Mr. Alexander to found Cataloochee Ski in 1961. Our property split from the ranch to be a part of the ski area. Ultimately, the ski area determined they didn’t need the land and sold it which is how we ultimately purchased it.
(A side note – Richard Coker Jr., Mr. Alexander’s grandson, built our home, the last house he built before passing away in 2013).
Since Mr. Alexander was a noted forester in addition to being a rancher, our open field is surrounded by forest, a terrific wind break in the winter when those mountain-top winds howl. Wild blackberries grow along the edge of the forest and ripen during August. These tasty morsels are appreciated by humans as well as many animals – including our numerous black bears. The sight of a black bear settled back on its haunches merrily munching away on berries might be quite picturesque unless you spy him while rounding a corner driving a bright orange tractor. Then, the vision of a black bear is breathtaking in a totally different way.
The more common hazard are those thorns on the blackberry bushes. They scrape, scratch and scar a body as I drive the mowing deck as close as possible to the edge of the field. To protect myself, I wear thick leather gloves, batting away thick branches bristling with thorns.
We also have several locust trees on the property, bearing their nasty, long thorns on branches. While blackberries might scratch and claw, locust will drive thorns through leather gloves and deep into your body.
I drove the tractor near a thick grove of wild blackberry under a low hanging branch of a locust tree. The mowing deck whipped the blackberry branches and the roll bar collided with a locust branch. One of the two plants extracted its revenge. The identity of today’s antagonist is unknown, whether briars from a blackberry bush or thorns from a locust branch. My attacker approached from behind.
A branch full of prickly danger landed on my hat. At first, I did not realize the danger. No blood had been drawn. But the bouncing and rocking of the tractor loosened the sharp object. It fell and sunk itself into my neck.
My reaction to the pain was swift, my hand racing in defense. Only my hand was covered by those thick work gloves covered in oil from the pneumatics of the tractor. The gloves work perfectly as the first line of defense from attacking branches as I mow, but they are too thick and slick to grab a small branch embedded in my neck. But I did succeed in detaching the offender, only to have it fall inside the back of my t-shirt, a fact I learned only when I leaned back in the seat.
The t-shirt fabric stretched and pushed the daggers into my back. I twisted, which only raked the points across the exposed skin of my back. I worked hard to keep the tractor from hitting any objects in the field while also desperately trying to remove the assailant from my t-shirt. Those thick, oil-covered gloves were useless as my hands swept under the cloth.
In desperation, I leaned forward over the steering wheel, reached around my back, and shook the t-shirt. The first shake only resulted in further mutilation. The second shake added punctures. But the third shake was successful and the branch mercifully fell through the bottom of my shirt.
Just one problem. I was leaning forward. The back of my jeans gapped at the waist. The gap was perfectly centered to catch the falling, bristling menace. The thorns fell below the waistline and happily sank themselves into their new fleshy target, a location which became readily apparent as I sat back into the seat, tightening the jeans and driving the daggers deep. The medical profession many consider that a perfect zone for inoculations, but trust me when I say it is a quite uncomfortable spot to have briars lodged.
Sitting on the seat of the tractor was no longer an option, so I now demonstrated the amazing skill of driving a tractor while standing. And only one hand gripped the steering wheel because the other gloved hand desperately fished the back of my pants.
Only in hindsight (maybe I should choose another word) can I imagine the wonder of a tractor rolling across the field, its driver standing on the platform yelping, dancing and shaking with his hand down the seat of his jeans. Fortunately, the prickly invader was located and removed allowing me to settle back down in the tractor seat.
As I continued mowing, I gave thanks that Mr. Alexander saw fit to leave a ring of trees around the field, blocking the view from anyone in the vicinity. I scanned the field to identify any potential witnesses, but I saw none – not surprising since I can’t even see any neighbor’s houses.
But as I scanned the now menacing blackberry bushes, I wondered if perhaps there might be a black bear just inside the shadows of those woods – sitting on his haunches, munching blackberries, and enjoying the show while thinking that mowing really is a pain in the ass.
The featured image in today’s post is licensed under Creative Commons: 0.0 License via pexels.com