The Fragility of Life, and Gigantic Honking Lawn Mowers
Some things will never make sense to me. Like lawn care, and sudden loss
The following are the only things I believed as a 14-year-old that I remain sure of:
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII is the sickest car ever produced
Garrett Hill’s two-tone pants from that old Transworld ad kick ass
Louis Sachar’s Holes is a masterpiece
And there is nothing more stultifying than lawn maintenance
I don’t devote much thought to the first three things (because they are facts and don’t require further examination), but I still find myself daydreaming about the last one. Why do people choose maintaining an invasive, inedible grass species to be their life’s obsession?
Lawns are pretty much useless. Sure, they reduce some CO2 output and cool the air above them, but those environmental benefits are swiftly canceled out by their irrigation requirements — it’s estimated between 30 and 60 percent (!!!) of all urban fresh water use in the US is used to water lawns — and the emissions from the gas-powered mowers often used to cut them.
One mower manufacturer stands tall above the rest, and the more I contemplate its existence, the more befuddled I get. I’m referring to, of course, Bad Boy Mowers.
An archetype of modern Americana, everything about Bad Boy Mowers is comically excessive with names like “RENEGADE DIESEL” and “COMPACT OUTLAW”. They start at like $3,000 and look like they’d be more at home on the set of a Mad Max film than in your neighbor’s garage.
On their YouTube channel you can find videos that explain their revolutionary chute technology, or be taken on a virtual tour of its Arkansas factory by an employee who goes by “Big Schwag.”
I eventually came across a forum for lawn mower enthusiasts. Cautiously, I stuck my head in, expecting it to be a breeding ground for bellicose know-it-alls, because…you know…that’s generally what online forums are.
But that was not what I found.
Instead, I found genuine fans. Some users have had their accounts for 10+ years, having made thousands of comments along the way. The commentariat offered honest opinions of their Bad Boys, parts dealers recommendations, troubleshooting tips and all sorts of genial advice.
For example, one first-time poster was seeking advice on which Bad Boy they should buy to mow their many acres of grass each week.
Given the large size of the lawn, a veteran user responded:
“Honestly, hire a lawn crew. You can sit on the couch drinking a cold beer. Turn on the ball game suck down some spicy hot wings. YOU deserve it buddy.”
That forum is where some people find refuge from the stressors in their life, and their cheery disposition made me feel like a real jerk-ass for treating lawn mowing like such an anathema.
In the early 1940s Ansel Adams was commissioned by the government to photograph the National Parks, but the attack on Pearl Harbor led to his funding being pulled and the project stalled in a truly on-the-nose metaphor about American priority. Adams was able to shoot only ~150 photos of the parks.
Frank Ruggles didn’t want to pick up where Adams left off, but instead find the exact coordinates Adams stood at and recreate the shots, using the exact camera equipment Adams had.
I met Ruggles two years ago for a story about how he turned an empty bank branch in Richmond into a pretty impressive, customized darkroom that would serve as the home base for the project, which he called 79 Years.
It was an incredibly ambitious project, and Ruggles later told me that some streaming services were even interested in turning the project into a docuseries. Virginia native and astronaut responsible for the greatest NASA portrait ever taken, Leland Melvin, was tapped to be Ruggles’ co-star.
But just like Adams’, Ruggles’ project is one that will go unfinished, because Frank Ruffles died suddenly earlier this month. He was 55.
Ruggles said 79 Years was to show the effects time, as well as climate change, have had on the parks. Though I think he also wanted to do it because he properly adored photography. He called it his purpose in life.
He geeked out on the equipment and seemed so stoked to go out to the parks and start searching for Adams’ vantage points, lack of guiding maps or GPS coordinates be damned. Such was his adoration of the national parks and photography.
When people die, I want to turn to cliches like “I hope they’re at peace,” because it’s all I’ve got. But I don’t even know what it means for the deceased to be at peace. His sudden passing shows to me that life is random, and unfair, and some horrific things can’t be explained.
I only met Frank a few times, but I relished each opportunity I had to catch up with him. He was generous with his time and seemed like a good man. I hope his family and friends are okay.
Some people find shelter from the stressors of life through photography. Others love bicycles, skateboards and two-tone pants. And some people like aggressive-looking lawn mowers and talking about them on the internet.
I still think maintaining a lawn is a waste of energy. But an even bigger waste of energy is poking holes in the things other people love.
Whenever tragedy strikes, I call to mind Philip Larkin’s poem titled, fittingly, The Mower. It’s about a time he unwittingly killed a hedgehog while mowing his lawn. It ends as follows:
“We should be careful, of each other, we should be kind. While there is still time."