Zen and the Art of Yard Maintenance
As a child, yard work was mostly a forced labor exercise. A chore to be done. Saturday morning my older brothers would mow the lawn and I would rake. We would weed the garden, or, if we were lucky, get to trim back bushes or brush with the big pruners. I don’t remember liking or disliking the yard work. At times it was even fun. Now that I am a dad, these activities are still a chore, but now I am the one who gets to use the fun power tools, and it is often a time to be alone and just enjoy the clarity that comes from physical labor. Yard work has become a moment of zen in the chaotic world of raising 4 kids.
And after a crazy spring/early summer dealing with a bad yard contractor, we definitely needed some yard zen. We hired a certified landscape charlatan to do some rather extensive clearing and replanting for us. He lied about scheduling, overcharged us, substituted cheaper plants than what we paid for and technically was–what is the term?–a jerk. He would show up at the most inopportune time demanding money we owed due to his poor estimating and bristled when I asked why. When questioned and challenged he had an answer for everything and somehow made it our fault. After it became apparent that the only way to “get our money back” would be to force him to finish the work we had no choice but to stay the course. All of this happened while I was trying to keep our kids happy and active during the early summer–without a yard–when the weather for being outside was best.
Eventually the work was completed, the grass and plants grew and the yard started to look better. We still have days the Good Doctor and I get mad, but we have tried to move on. And by moving on I mean leaving negative reviews on every social media and home services review website known to man. We learned we were not alone in our experience with him, but other bad reviews only appeared after we were past the point of no return. It was an awful experience, but we learned from it.
Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance explores different ways people experience life and learn from situations. It contrasts a romantic, in-the-moment viewpoint of the world with a classical, analytical and detail oriented viewpoint. A romantic lives “in the moment” and enjoys riding the motorcycle while a classicist derives enjoyment by learning every detail and mechanical nuance. Ultimately Pirsig comes to realize that a balance of the two extremes is the best way to live. I read it in high school as part of a senior seminar class. The seminar was divided into the more counter culture seniors who viewed this as a call to the open road vs the more conventional, practical seniors who viewed it as a load of hooey. Thankfully with age comes perspective (although I am still not a fan of Walden–another high school read).
I vary in my application of this literary work to my yard maintenance regimen. Is it weird that I actually enjoy creating a uniformed striped pattern using my mower? And that I vary that pattern each week thinking that it helps the grass grow more uniformly? Up and down, left and right, right diagonal, left diagonal. Seeing all those lines on freshly mowed yard takes me to a happy place. Note to self: get out more.
As part of our efforts to make our part of the world blossom as the rose The Good Doctor ordered a metric ton of bulbs to supplement the gross she purchased from Costco–enough bulbs to create the Northeast extension of the Keukenhof. We also received several ancestral peony plants from my wife’s parents. They got them from plants that originally grew at my wife’s grandmother’s home. The Good Doctor had planned to plant most of them herself, but due to a back injury that task fell to my not-so-green thumb. Thankfully, I had help from C. He was excited to “dig tunnels,” but when his playing in the street proved to be a bit too exciting for me I was able to persuade him to watch a favorite movie while I finished up the last of the planting. We were a bit under the gun to get them in before a freeze but I managed to get them all in.
I guess most of my yard work is more romantic in philosophy. I enjoy it in the moment. The warm sun, working up a sweat in the cool fall air, the quiet punctuated by your own breathing or the podcast du jour, and the satisfaction of finishing something . I don’t consider myself a gardner, and I definitely lack the encyclopedic agricultural knowledge of my wife (or her botanist father), but I have come to appreciate the moment of zen that yard work brings to my day.
But getting your kids to do yard work together? There is nothing zen about that.