Cutting Grass in Galveston, pt. 1

This, believe it or not, is close to my heart, and like most things close to the heart, I’m not entirely sure why. It’s so close to the heart and, frankly, weird, that I’m going to start off with something that’s neither.

In Galveston, most people live cheek-to-jowl with their neighbor. Some roofs come within two inches of touching. Whether your neighbors are singing along with Neil Diamond on their porch or baby-talking their pets in their backyard, you’ll hear them. And if they are mowing their lawn with a power mower, it will be as if they are mowing your own. Noise pollution might be less dangerous than fouling air or water, but it’s more annoying.

Now for the weird. Many years ago, one of my students became infatuated with Edward R. Murrow’s 1950s radio program “This I Believe.” The challenge was that an essayist had three minutes to read something that expressed a core belief, something inextricably tied with who they were. My student was trying to figure out what she would say, and she asked me what I’d say.

Okay: Describe the most essential, the most elemental part of your identity – not just what you think is true but what, in the Proto-Indo-European sense of “believe,” what you love – in 500 words. That was the challenge. Like most people who aren’t fundamentalist about something, I was stumped.

I was still thinking about it a day later when it occurred to me what I would say: I believe in hand-powered reel mowers. Twenty years later, I think I’d stick with that.

Partly, this is an admission that, for me, the question’s an impossible ask. But it’s more than that. It’s not entirely facetious.

Weirdness, chapter 2: Once at a party in Austin, I decided to ask the room whether anyone felt there might be a local interest in a lawn care company that used only hand tools to cut and trim yards. This was in the Clarksville neighborhood, the beating blue heart of the People’s Republic of Austin, with graduate students in the humanities. They thought I was joking.

My best friend. (Kidding!)

I’ll try to explain what makes the reel mower special in part 2. For now, I will only say that in Galveston, the reel mower should be the tool of choice for almost every yard. (I exempt hired crews. They need to work fast. Yes, it feels ludicrous to see crews zipping around stamp-sized lawns on riding mowers, but I get it. To a point.)

In my hundreds of walks in Galveston, I have seen exactly two people other than me using a reel mower, and one of them was my neighbor, who told me I inspired him. He’s an enthusiastic convert. But I’ll save the sell for tomorrow.

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