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Musing on Mowing, part 3:
The Satisfaction of Muscle Power

When he was a kid, my husband Ward remembers, mowing the lawn was fun. Before he was tall enough to reach the machine's handlebar, he grabbed the single wooden shaft with both hands to push.

The machine he uses now is also, like that one, a human-powered reel mower. The revolving blades of the reel design cut the grass like scissors, instead of ripping it as rotary mowers do. A cut blade of grass seals at the end, keeping in moisture and keeping out pathogens. You can see the damage to torn grass blades: brown ends, which make the color of the whole lawn less green.

Rotary machines disturb the natural growth pattern of the grass, which naturally lies in a thick mat. Suction created by rotating blades pulls the grass up. Reel mowers cut lower than rotaries, but there's more grass left at the low level.

Improved reel mowers today give a cleaner cut, have more ergonomic handles, weigh as little as 16 pounds, and are easier to push. There's a wide variety to compare. U.S. manufacturers include Scotts, Great States, American Lawnmower, and Agri-Fab (some of these are also sold as Sears Craftsman). Ward chose a German-made Brill, one of the lightest.

Still even the highly engineered machines do require more effort to use than self-propelled power mowers. They burn about as many calories per hour as tennis, downhill skiing, or low-impact aerobics — good cardiovascular exercise. (Manufacturers recommend using manual reel mowers for lawns a half-acre and under.)

What better way to get your workout: fresh air, birds singing, a beautiful setting? You can mow the lawn barefoot without danger of injury. You can get up at dawn and mow while it's cool without bothering the neighbors; the noise a reel mower makes is a soft snickety whirr.

The neighborhood kids who help me in the garden were fascinated to discover it, and asked if they could try "that machine that's like a lawnmower."

The only disadvantage Ward has found, is that it doesn't cut well if he lets the lawn get really tall. Stems — especially of weeds — just lie down under it, and then spring back up. As a result, this mower is encouraging more regularity in Ward's mowing (which is better for the grass, too).

He's adjusting to it well. Because, he says, after all those years with the power machines, when mowing was a chore — now it's fun again.

© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 25 July 2003

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