The Art of Landscape Maintenance

It’s the end of the day.

A long day.

I’m tired.

Spent.

Drenched in sweat.

Done.

Ready to go.

Shades on.

Eyes already closed.

It’s late July.

All heat and humidity.

Typical Cincinnati.

I’m sitting in a Chevy C-10 half-ton with a vinyl bench seat, AM-only radio, triangular glass valance windows, and no air-conditioning.

You know, a real truck.

Roger (my boss) turns the key.

The Chevy rumbles to a start.

We roll away pulling a twelve-foot utility trailer full of lawnmowers.

The air begins to move.

Finally, some relief.

But, it’s brief.

Roger stops the truck, gets out without saying a word (he rarely says a word), grabs a blower off of the trailer and starts re-doing what I had already done.

This is classic Roger.

Unlike Barney (my other boss), who’s all about speed and getting onto the next property, Roger is meticulous, methodical and precise when it comes to cutting grass, trimming around trees, edging sidewalks and cleaning up with a blower.

I usually feel compelled to join him when he does this.

“Not this time” I say to myself.

I push my shades up onto my forehead and inspect the sidewalks.

They’re clean.

I watch him hustle around the yard blowing out the beds.

His back is a bit hunched.

His left shoulder hangs lower than the other.

He’s old.

At least to my eighteen-year-old eyes he is.

“Not this time” I say to myself.

Really, promise to myself.

But, here’s the thing.

I’m getting schooled in how to put in a day’s worth of labor.

You see it’s not about ability.

It’s about will.

It’s a choice.

A stark choice.

A public choice.

And, there are few things more challenging to the fragile ego of a young man (at least I think) than watching an old man put in more effort than you ever thought was possible while you’re sitting in this truck and he’s not.

My leg starts bouncing.

My fingers start strumming the truck’s outer door panel.

“F*cking Roger” I say.

I jump out of the truck.

Grab the other blower out of the trailer.

Set it on the street.

Prime it.

Yank the pull cord.

And, crank it to a rumbling start.

I loop both straps over my shoulders.

It’s heavy – industrial-strength heavy.

I walk the cement sidewalk in front of the house.

Nothing.

Not a blade of grass.

I walk the slate sidewalk leading up to the front door.

Nothing.

Not a blade of grass.

I keep walking.

I get to the front step and find a single blade of grass.

I lower the blower tube, depress the trigger and hold it down like the action hero at the end of a cinematic climax whose out of ammunition but still firing and screaming into the camera with bloodthirsty vengeance.

But, I did not scream.

Aloud, that is.

I jump back into the truck.

Roger’s already there.

He smiles at me.

I muster a smile back.

Because, even though I’m not in the mood at the moment, I sense what he’s doing.

He’s teaching me how to take pride in my work.

And, now, looking back, he was also teaching me how to be an artist – how to do what I do whatever it is that I do and do it well regardless of the circumstances.

I see others approach landscape maintenance similarly.

I see it on my campus.

I see groundskeepers running their weed eater, angled just right, along the edge of the sidewalk creating this beautiful, thin gap between the turf and brick.

To do that right takes care, attention, a lot of practice and a desire to do it well.

It takes extra.

And, when I have the good fortune of stumbling upon someone in the process of doing that, I reflexively exclaim “That’s beautiful!”

Not that they need me to say it.

They don’t.

They’ve internalized their own standard.

They hold themselves to account.

They don’t care what I think or what the boss may think.

And, to be in the presence of such independence of spirit inspires me.

There’s this energy that passes between us.

Seriously, I can feel vibrations of excellence emanating from them.

They make me want to be better.

They make me want to add that extra little bit of love.

I think the universe relishes in it.

Because it’s rare.

And, it’s rare because it’s hard.

We all know the ones who do what they do in this manner.

And, when they do, it’s a gift to the world.

They’re the special ones among us.

Like Roger Mackey.

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Questions or comments? Just fill out the CONTACT form on my ABOUT page and I will get back with you right away. Thanks. – shawn

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Other Posts from the “Manual Labor” Series:

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Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash

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