The value of lawn mowing

English professor Jerry DeNuccio discusses the value of mowing the lawn. In addition to being an important marker of a middle class lifestyle, he suggests it has additional value:

Cutting grass is transformative. Having finished, one can see, immediately, that the lawn is manifestly different than it was, manifestly better, improved, prettier. Mowing is applied art; in doing it, one edits the lawn, grooming the ragged, shearing the shaggy, making the unruly ruly. I value this transformation because it stands in such stark contrast to what I do for a living…

For me, cutting grass involves a kind of invisible growth. Ironically, the very routine of grass cutting, its essential mindlessness, clears mental space to fill with intentional, task-unrelated thoughts. I call it “the mull.” I experience regrets; weigh alternatives and make choices; plan upcoming events; sing songs I find meaningful, which almost always means songs from the 1960s…

But I find there’s another, less volitional mental activity that occurs while cutting grass, one that seemingly lowers a hook to snag things lurking beneath the surface of consciousness. Experts would call it “the incubation effect.” Most would call it “zoning out.” I call it “the dream-drift.” The mind wanders. Stray images and unkempt thoughts slipstream in from some far away cognitive Pacific…

This thinking aspect is intriguing. On one hand, DeNuccio suggests mowing the lawn is an accomplishment, giving the mower the ability to quickly see that one has “improved” the lawn. Man or woman has quickly tamed unruly nature with the force of a human-pushed machine.

On the other hand, the process of mowing the lawn grants one important time to let the mind wander. This sort of time seems to be in short supply in our modern world, particularly for younger generations where time tends to be filled with some kind of digital input. This time can be found in other places, such as driving on long car trips, but lawn mowing could provide a regular, uninterrupted place to mull.

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