Neighbor’s advice gets mowed down

By Bob Huber: Local Columnist

You’d think America’s scientists would have better things to do than conduct fruitless research into global warming and the expanding universe. Instead they should tackle problems vital to the nation’s welfare, such as when to stop mowing our lawns.

A few years ago my attention became focused on cutting grass because my wife, Marilyn, insisted on fertilizing ours. I promised to mow it every week in a spirit of matrimonial unity, and because she told me to. She said I needed the exercise.

But by the end of May the urge to know when to put the mower up on jacks for the winter began to torment me. Whenever I pushed that old machine around, all you could hear was choking and wheezing sounds, and the air was filled with exhaust smoke like an old man with a Roi Tan cigar. The mower was in pretty bad shape too.

My muscles ached, and I was pooped. Neighbors were pointing and telling each other they’d rather die than end up looking like that.

The mower was worse off. The first time I cut the grass that year it took off like a modified Buick, but by mid-May it lagged pitifully. Then by the end of the month it sounded like a love-sick Volkswagen with warped thrashers, and I had to avoid dandelions, fearful they would shut me down like elm stumps.

So I asked an octogenarian neighbor for a ball-park date when grass stops growing in these parts, and he gave me a bemused look. “Grass in some yards stops growing early,” he said. “In others, it doesn’t. Depends on karma, I believe.”

“Can you be more specific?”

His eyebrows bobbed up and down, and he said, “Your mower will tell you. When it won’t start, it’s a sure sign of winter. Sometimes it comes early, like in June, especially if you don’t water. That’s what I tell my wife anyway.”

Of course, I didn’t believe him. How dare this crusty old fool take advantage of my good nature. All I wanted was a little edge over my lawn, some assurance that I wouldn’t be mowing right up to and including the winter solstice.

Which reminded me of an old woodcutter in Santa Fe who could foretell the weather. He was never wrong. “Gonna be a tough winter,” he’d say, and it was.

So I sat him down one day and asked, “How can you tell if a bad winter’s coming?”

He took a deep drag on his pipe, glanced over his shoulder, and said,

“It’s a secret. I’ve never told anyone.”

“I know, but you can tell me. What’s your secret?”

He glanced quickly over his shoulder and shook his head. “I guess I can tell you,” he said. “Nobody believes you anyway. It’s because the Gringos buy more firewood.”

So a few days ago my mower wouldn’t start. Then a couple chilly days blew in from Canada, and temperatures stayed low for awhile, and it rained. It was wonderful.

I should add here that temperatures quickly zoomed right back up into the 90s, and I was forced to put a new spark plug in my mower. Suddenly it ran beautifully.

I couldn’t wait to tell my crusty old neighbor. “I put a new spark plug in my mower,” I said, “and it’s running like a top. So much for karma.”

“Aw, well, if that’s what you want,” he said. “Of course, you’ll have green grass until December. You’ll probably even water it.” He shook his head. “There’s just no telling you young punks anything these days.”