Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Zen and Art of Lawn Mower Maintenance

My parents bought me a gas-powered leaf blower back when we lived in the house on Merriman and had mature trees and autumn leaves to deal with. To this day, I can never get it to start consistently or run well, to the point where I simply refuse to take it out any more. But I’m nearly certain it’s more because I’m an idiot than because of any sort of mechanical problems. Along these same lines, when we moved to our current house in 2006, I purposely bought an electric snow thrower which I have had no issues with and works great with virtually no maintenance.

When we moved to the Merriman house in 2000, it was our first foray into homeownership and lawn maintenance, and my dad gave me his old push mower. He doesn’t remember how long he had the mower before then, but it served him well and got the job done for me at both our old house and our new one, up until last summer.

As evidenced with the leaf blower, I’m horrible when it comes to understanding and maintaining outdoor/lawn appliances. Outside of gassing it up regularly, I pretty much ignored that mower. I never changed the oil. Never changed or even sharpened the blade. Seriously. I’m terrible with this stuff!

In the fall of 2008, the mower started acting a little buggy, nothing major, but just enough that I noticed, so I took it to a local shop for a complete tune-up, oil change, the works. While it was in the shop, I borrowed my neighbor’s self-propelled mower and was amazed at how easy the mowing was on our side hill when I didn’t have to do all the work myself. My eye started to wander while my mower was being tended to. Suddenly I was seriously considering buying a new one. I began researching brands and features, even narrowing it down to a couple of specific models I liked… then never pulled the trigger. I figured I didn’t need to spend the money when I had a perfectly good one and mowing is a good work out (at least, that's what I told myself).

As contrition for my roving eye, I bought and installed a new blade for the old mower at the beginning of last summer. And then last fall the universe meted out its justice, lawn care style, for flirting with infidelity by killing my mower.

The poor thing started spewing nasty, thick gray-black smoke and emitting a rattling death knell of protest whenever pressed into service. It would seem that my old mower had found its own delicate life-balance, learning to survive – even thrive! – in my neglect. I can only assume that my too little, too late attempt at taking care of it threw off its equilibrium. Like giving a starving man a fancy meal, the fresh oil and new filter and all was just too much of a shock to its system.

So I now have a new mower. It’s pretty fancy, what with its “Guaranteed to Start” system and “Personal Pace” self-propulsion and mulch/side-discharge/bagging options and all. I took it out and used it for the first time this week (after a month of borrowing my neighbor’s mower again), and it was all pretty slick. But it was with a certain sadness that the old girl went to the curb, leaving in its place not just the burden of lawn care maintenance, but also that of maintenance on the tools used in lawn care maintenance.

The dam is broke. I may need to have my dad over to teach me how to properly use the leaf blower now.

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