I struggle to enjoy summer. So each year, when the last frost drifts away to Australia, or wherever it goes, I grit my teeth and remind myself of the most “hot girl summer” moment I’ve ever had, and look forward to reliving the pleasure of lawn mowing that brought it about:

I was house-sitting for my parents at our old farmstead in rural Pennsylvania. One of the responsibilities of this job is to put the trash out for the trashmen every week, because more than a decade ago, a little black bear got into the refuse...

I struggle to enjoy summer. So each year, when the last frost drifts away to Australia, or wherever it goes, I grit my teeth and remind myself of the most “hot girl summer” moment I’ve ever had, and look forward to reliving the pleasure of lawn mowing that brought it about:

I was house-sitting for my parents at our old farmstead in rural Pennsylvania. One of the responsibilities of this job is to put the trash out for the trashmen every week, because more than a decade ago, a little black bear got into the refuse and scattered it from our house to Kingdom Come. The trash shed has been guarded by a thin piece of electrified barbed wire that has deterred both bruin and garbage collector with equal efficacy ever since.

It was Tuesday, my first week on duty, and I’d forgotten to take out the trash. From a hundred yards away, I spied the trashmen making their way up our driveway. So I threw the sticks of my Country Clipper Boss Zero Turn Rider mower forward and headed downhill like a bat out of Hell to save the trashmen from the bear trap.

“What’s that thing do, 30mph?” one of the guys asked when I arrived just in time. “You looked like you were driving NASCAR!” he marveled (still a compliment back then).

Never have I felt more “validated” (or attractive in a pair of yellow safety/shooting glasses). And though I never minded the task, it was then that I was struck by how comprehensively satisfying mowing the lawn can be.

Josef Pieper writes in Leisure: The Basis of Culture of the dangers of our modern tendency to overwork and be consumed by busyness and stimulation, to the point that we have no time for contemplation. Fortunately for me, every nine months or so, central Pennsylvania turns into a giant steam room of 80 degrees and 80 percent humidity — perfect growing conditions — and we must work to “beat back the jungle,” as my father would say. We slog along, sweating — me pretending I’m a sweltering Blanche DuBois weathering the mugginess in dewy glamour, while in reality I turn into Hank Hill, wondering in my puddle of redneck sweat, “Why would anyone do drugs when they can just mow a lawn?”

Mowing the lawn is truly a splendid activity, and if you let it, will consume you as powerfully but to much more positive effect as other forms of grass. You see, mowing the lawn gets you outside, gives you a purpose, and accomplishes something very rewarding and broadly beneficial without requiring much effort (provided it’s a riding mower). It’s what recycling purports to be — minus all the underreported consequences and outright failures of the “broken” practice.

Mowing the lawn, you see, is a re-cyclical ritual whose pleasures repeat themselves throughout the seasons — and to renewed effect. There is the first lawn mowing of the season, all full of hopeful trepidation. Will the mower start up this year? Did someone leave it empty of gas? When was the last time we changed the oil? Sharpened the blades?

And then, after yanking the choke to its full-on position and allowing the hibernating motor to sputter a few times over, it kicks into the I-mean-business, guttural whirr that becomes as synonymous a sound of summer as office air conditioning and evening crickets. From turtle to jackrabbit you go, and for an hour or more you are left to your own thoughts and fantasies as you reconnect to nature in the best way possible: by burning fossil fuels with a four-stroke engine.

Mowing the lawn is technically a chore, but it’s more leisure than work. As Max Frenzel notes on Medium:

True leisure, Pieper believed, is “a condition of the soul.” Not the absence of work, but its active counterpart, “an attitude of non-activity, of inward calm, of silence; it means not being ‘busy,’ but letting things happen.”

Mowing the lawn is something that needs to be done, but you can do it pretty much without thinking. For me, actually, it’s the best way to think. The seven-some acres that need to be trimmed every three days or so (depending on the daily afternoon thunderstorms) are my excuse for escaping to a bucolic world wherein I get lost in my own thoughts, musing about the origins of woke culture, the science of the keto diet, how rational Catholicism is, what items I need to fetch from the grocery store, how I need to email my friend back, pay my gas bill, make an oil change appointment, and so forth and so on over grassy hill and dale…

I say a prayer as I ride past Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, which neighbors our property, and beside the graves of a few dogs buried on the property, because I don’t believe Heaven can be perfect if our pets aren’t there. I reflect on sentimental things — climbing that large oak tree with its strong, low-slung arms, road tripping in the family travel trailer, parked now, as the children have grown and it’s no longer needed, in overgrown grass I’ve been mowing beside for years.

I drive dexterously (I think so, anyway!) to protect plots of daffodils, planted long ago by beloved ancestors, and I avoid with the grace of an F-1 driver clipping a corner apex (again, I’m the only witness…) the wild buttercups whose petals are my father’s and my favorite color (and I pick him a bunch every spring when they pop up).

All the while, I am absorbing Vitamin D, ingesting the fragrance of earth, flowers, grass, trees, and life, as bugs here and there dodge my path, and deer and bunnies and the occasional groundhog dart from hidden places. The foliage changes throughout the season, and lawn mowing lasts well into fall, when the shadows become longer, the days shorter, and more clothes more necessary. The task never becomes monotonous for me, as there are myriad ways to devise the cutting route and endless things to think about. And it’s always rewarding, not just for me, who feels accomplished, but for everyone else, too, who relishes the manicured sight and nothing-like-it fragrance of fresh cut grass.

Had Pieper been able to give ninety minutes of lawn mowing on the Boss a go before he went, I think he would agree that this pastime presents the perfect opportunity for “active leisure” — engaging the soul in relaxation, effortlessness, reflection, and even, if you play your cards right, the added bonus of a memorable ego boost from the trash collector.