Look at all that front lawn I had to mow down there at Katahdin Lodge and Camps, in the summer of 1969.
Anytime Finley Clarke's Nephew, that'd be me, David Robert Crews, was living and working at Finley's Katahdin Lodge and Camps, I was happy to be the Lodge's sole grass cutter and weed whacker.
I wouldn't have it any other way.
And my Uncle Finley and his wife, my Aunt Martha, both completely agreed with me.
In November of 1968, I moved, from where I grew up in Dundalk, Maryland, a Baltimore County suburb of Baltimore City, to Katahdin Lodge of Patten, Maine, to begin living and working at the Lodge. In effect exchanging the crowded, industrialized sights, sounds and smells of suburban sprawl for the quiet, sometimes gentle/sometimes harsh, natural beauty and fresh air of the heavily forested, sparsely populated Katahdin Valley.
The very first time I had entered that wide, rolling, deep green, mountain and valley landscape, was during summer vacation of 1966. I was a 16 year old passenger in my father's car. Dad, my mother, younger sister, cousin Nelson and I were on our way, up from Maryland, to spend a week at the hunting lodge my Uncle Finley, my mother's younger brother and my father's best friend, had bought the year before. We were driving about 6 miles south of the Lodge, when I was blessed with my first full, sweeping look from the northern Appalachian Mountains to our left, then back across Rural Route 11 and out across the wide, rolling Katahdin Valley to our right.
I felt the very soul of me expand -- powerfully -- outwards in all directions around our moving car -- with such secure, natural warmth that I can not fully express. Something previously unknown to me, from deep inside of my living spirit, reached out and embraced the countryside. It instantly mingled all in amongst the multitudes of tall, healthy green trees. Then slid back inside of me.
For the first time in my life, it felt like I had finally arrived at home.
I had found my most comfortable place on earth. I was destined to love that sweet, rough section of God's Country more than anyplace else I have ever been.
Which is why, at the end of Thanksgiving Day Week of November 1968, after my father and I had spent that week at the Lodge, I accepted my Uncle Fin and Aunt Marty's request that I stay there at Katahdin Lodge to live with and work for them, instead of going back home to Baltimore to join the US Merchant Marines, as I had told everyone in my family that I was planning on doing.
I graduated from Dundalk High School on June 5, 1968, and had planned on joining the Merchant Marines before my official Army draft notice came. That way, I could not be drafted into the US Army, trained as an infantryman and sent to die in Vietnam. At that time in our nation's history, most young Americans thought that all military draftees were sent to Vietnam as infantrymen. And that few ever returned home fully alive.
In November of '68, I figured that I had about another year before my draft notice arrived in the mail. So I stayed at Katahdin Lodge, and my father drove back home to the Baltimore suburbs alone.
And I experienced my first wintertime in northern Maine.
Eventually, after a great winter spent at Katahdin Lodge, with my Uncle Fin and Aunt Marty, a few paying lodge guests, along with plenty enough of the finest kind of Mainers, especially the country girls, and after doing a whole lotta' snowmobile riding, but mostly doing a whole lotta' hard, often dangerous physical labor, I became a Registered Maine Guide--who specialized in guiding bear hunters.
I was the right man for the job.
Especially when it came time for keeping the Lodge's roofs, walkways, parking areas and large horseshoe shaped driveway shoveled or plowed free from the record snowfall of the winter of 1968-69 and for keeping the Lodge's substantial, rocky lawns mowed and looking good.
All through my teenage years, while still living in Dundalk, I had shoveled neighborhood sidewalks and driveways, and had mowed and trimmed neighborhood lawns for money.
My way of viewing doing that work was similar to how some other young men view being on an organized football team.
Participating whole heartedly in football practice and playing football games is a very physically, mentally and emotionally demanding challenge. And in order to be, and feel, successful, and to win any games, football players must love 'tackling' those multiple layers of challenges. They must also learn to understand and respect their opponents.
You already know that mowing lawns or shoveling snow can also be a very physically, mentally and emotionally demanding challenge. Many teens, especially today's computer dependent teens, do not want to mow any lawns or shovel anything at all around their house, or anybody else's. Other teens love working out in gyms and being on sports teams. The average kid thinks of lawn mowing and snow shoveling as being a serious, frustrating hassle. But I approached it from a different angle.
I thought of it all as, "How can I understand the varying challenges of each individual mowing or shoveling job, in order to do each job the easiest and most efficient way, while setting and maintaining a steady pace at working that neither drains my energy and strength too quickly, nor takes me too long? And I want to evenly exercise and strengthen my body as much as possible. But, I must respect my own abilities and limitations, and weigh them against the various degrees of difficulty that each job possesses."
When lawn mowing, I started each lawn by first looking the yard all over, and figuring out how to make the most of the terrain along with the layout of typical yard objects like a swimming pool and a birdbath. It was the challenge of creating a geometric mowing pattern that allowed me to git-'er-done right. A pattern to be used every time I mowed that lawn. I always wanted to make as many passes as possible with the mower facing in the same direction, with the cut grass blowing out from under the mower only one time--to avoid building up too much cut grass under the mower. That meant pulling the mower backwards almost as many times as pushing it forwards. Which also exercised my body more evenly. I have never seen any other old or young mowing pro doing this. I guarantee you that most power lawn mowers cut the same going in either direction. You can use that technique on the fussiest of folk's lawns, and it will look just fine.
But it also means having the common sense to realize that bagging cut grass and putting it out for the trash man to collect is asinine. Because you are taking natural fertilizer away and wasting it. I ask you, so what if a little bit of cut grass gets dragged into your house? It won't kill you or cause cancer in your offspring, but the chemical fertilizers you may use on your lawns can kill by causing cancerous type medical conditions.
For shoveling snow, first I see if the walk or driveway is lower at one end. I always start at the lower end, no matter how slight the angle of the grade is, because it allows for you to not have to reach as far as in reaching downhill with the shovel, and each shovelful will be lifted up a slightly shorter distance. Each snowfall is either dry and light, or wet and heavy, to varying degrees, so I find out how heavy each shovelful of snow feels. I scoop up the same basic amount of snow in each shovelful and set a pace and rhythm that is akin to the rhythm of old time field hand laborers' work songs.
Everything I did to mow or shovel like I have told you counts towards a better outcome, like shaving fractions of ounces off of football players', heavy, protective gear by using lighter, space age materials when making the helmets and padding. The lighter the gear, the faster and further the players can run. And by coming up with separate strategies, 'running different patterns', for each mowing or shoveling situation, it was even more like playing a football game against each and every shaggy lawn or snow covered sidewalk and driveway job that I 'tackled'.
Ya' see what I mean by comparing playing football to mowing and shoveling? It is similar. Unfortunately, mowing and shoveling don't earn ya' any cheers from a crowd of spectators, no scholarships are awarded, and there's no ego boosting or busting attention from the media. But mowing or shovelling still isn't the terrible and unpleasant chore that most kids think it is. It is all about how you view the challenges and overcome them.
After a good snow in Dundalk, when you walked down the street I grew up on, Dunmanway, you could usually tell which sidewalks I had shoveled. My shoveling jobs were almost always wider and straighter than any other sidewalks on the block. When I finished up mowing and trimming a lawn, it looked neat and tidy. I couldn't stand the sight of any blades of grass sticking up above the rest. It all had to be cut and trimmed to a reasonably even level.
It simply makes good sense to me to do the job right. And that personal maxim made me a good employee of my Uncle Finley's, because Fin fully personified that work ethic--every working day of his life.
While I was growing up, my parents had provided me with plenty enough clothing, other necessities of life, toys, model car kits, and then, as I passed age 14, Rock and Roll record albums became my preferred Christmas and birthday presents. My father worked in steel mills most of his life, and my mother usually had a good part time job. My entire extended family lived quite well enough, just about right in the middle of the American middle class.
But I wanted to purchase certain items that my parents could not afford. So I started my own little lawn care and snow shoveling business.
The Baltimore area does not receive a lot of snowfall each winter, but it was enough for me to earn maybe a hundred to a hundred and twenty bucks a winter. That snow shoveling business of mine allowed me to afford plenty of model car building kits (AMT Three In One Kits), record albums and some clothes.
Then all through the spring, summer and into the fall, the money from my lawn care work flowed into my bank account mighty darned good and steadily. Sometimes it garnered me better average hourly wages than those of the Bethlehem Steel Mill and Chevrolet Plant employees whose lawns I mowed.
Using a power mower is one of my all time favorite forms of exercise and outdoors activities. I kid you not.
After my body had matured enough to be nearly through the personal trials and tribulations of passing through puberty, and my brain had begun to achieve some solid degree of common sense and job site safety sensibilities, and I had grown strong enough to mow my family's large 100 x 60 foot yard, with a gas powered lawn mower, my father never had to tell me when to mow the yard. I did it because I was naturally compelled to pitch in and help take care of our home, it's good exercise and it paid well.
From the time that I was 12 or 13, until I moved away from my childhood home, our lawn there on Dunmanway never went for more than a week and a half without me cutting and trimming it to near perfection. It felt so good. And dad paid fair wages too.
After our lawn was done, I went on and mowed and trimmed other neighborhood family's yards for more money.
I can't stand self-propelled mowers. They don't actually make the work any easier. And my well honed, sculptor-style technique of mowing requires unapposing, fully dexterous control of the mowing machine at all times.
My all-time favorite lawn mower was a gas powered Lawn Boy, with a 15-inch blade. That little buddy and I could git'er done. We worked well together, through most of my teen years.
Now, when using a 15 incher, the smallest sized power mower blade I have ever known of, you have to make more passes on a lawn. But anything with a blade over 18 inches wide is too big and bulky for my personal, particular mowing technique. I'd rather zip right along with a lighter 15 or 18 inch mower, but do more zigs and zags, then to push a heavier, lunky darn 20 to 24 incher along for fewer, but slower and much sweatier zigs and zags. It seems that everybody else in America believes that the wider the mower blade, the quicker and easier they can mow a lawn, but that just ain't so. I know, because I'm an old pro.
Never had a power lawn trimmer either, and I've rarely ever used one. I do most of the trimming with the mower. That's why I prefer smaller bladed, lighter mowers that are not self propelled. They're easier to maneuver up against fences, above ground swimming pools and buildings. For me, them old timey scissor lookin' hand clippers were the right tool for doing any small amounts of trimming that I couldn't get done with a mower.
But I was younger and much more supple at the time.
Today, ten minutes work with a pair of those hand clippers, and I'd end up hobbling towards my medicine cabinet, with a screamin' sacroiliac steadily reminding me that those manual tool lawn care days of mine ended when my lower back was operated on.
Yeah, I know, I'm older, overweight and I get in the way sometimes, of those Spanish dudes who do the lawn care work for this rental townhouse and apartment complex I live in.
But I'm still gonna' tell you that my personal motto, concerning lawn mowing, has always been that the job isn't done until the sidewalks and driveways are swept clean.
I hate everything about them thar' new fangled, ear splitting, lung burning, back breaking, heavy darned gas powered leaf blowing machines. It is much easier and more peaceful to use a simple ol' broom to sweep the grass clippings off sidewalks and driveways--if you'll accept my opinion of it.
In my younger days, I mowed a lot of grass in Maryland and in Maine. I actually enjoyed it. But there was one humongous difference between mowing lawns in Maryland and mowing lawns in Maine:
THAT FRIGGIN FOUR FOOT THICK CLOUD OF MAINE BLACKFLIES, MOSQUITOES AND NO-SEE-UMS STEADILY SWARMING ALL AROUND MY BUG BATTERED HEAD!!!!
All I can say here is, "Praise the Lord and pass the Old Woodsman Bug Dope".
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