Tom Bickford

Tom Bickford

Mowing the Lawn

by Thomas Bickford

From the Editor: Tom Bickford is a frequent contributor to these pages. He takes his Federationism seriously. Here he talks about mowing the lawn. This is what he says:

When I was ten years old, I didn't care who mowed the lawn as long as it was someone else. My parents had a different idea about it, so I pushed the lawn mower around and cut the grass. Yes, that was in the days of the boy-powered lawn mower, and I felt very much "put upon." After all, I had two older sisters living at home, but that was before the days of women's liberation.

When I was thirteen, we lived in a different house with a bigger lawn, and, even though I got paid, I discovered too late that I had underestimated the price I should have asked. Result: bad feelings. Blindness came along in my late teens.

Now that I am the home owner and feel some pride in home ownership and the appearance of the yard, things are different. For too many years I didn't think I could really do the job because I was blind. Then I went to my NFB state convention and heard Fred Schroeder tell about his experiences mowing his lawn as a blind man. It was a good story; he told it well; and I knew I had run out of excuses. At this writing several years later, Fred Schroeder is the Federal Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Yes, some people, blind or sighted, cut their own grass, and some people, blind or sighted, get someone else to cut their grass, but I decided that my time had come.

The principle of mowing the lawn is quite simple: cut a swath. Move over, and cut another swath. Keep doing that until the job is done. With some practice you can learn how far to move without either cutting the same space again or leaving some grass uncut. Anytime I am in doubt, I hold the mower with one hand to keep the engine running and lean over to feel the area I think I have just cut. If there is tall grass that I missed, the only thing to do is to move back and make another pass at it, feel again for assurance, and then go on.

The most efficient approach would be to cut long, straight strips which waste less time in turning around. My trouble is that I don't walk straight for more than six or eight steps while pushing a mower over slightly uneven ground. The grass between the sidewalk and curb is just right, ten feet wide and level. That is the easy part. The hard part is all the rest of it, about five thousand square feet. That is a moderate amount by suburban standards.

The thing that makes the rest of the lawn hard is this. Even though the lot, the house, and all the areas covered by concrete are rectangular, there is a moderate hill along one side, and the house is set at an angle on the lot. In spite of all the straight lines, the lawn area has a very irregular shape. As you might expect, there are trees, flower gardens, and other things to bump into or avoid. I deliberately bump into trees and cut past them from all directions; then I put one hand on the tree and walk backward around it while pulling the mower as close to the tree as possible.

There is a plastic strip marking the edge of the flower gardens which serves two purposes. It helps to keep the grass from invading the garden area, and I find that I can slide one foot along the strip as I walk backward while pulling the mower. With the first pass up against the plastic strip and the next pass a little farther out as I hold the mower by the corner of the handle, I have enough space to stand while I cut straight away from the garden. In case you wonder about my walking backward, I find that I am leading the mower when I go backward and can direct it better that way.

Since I have a corner lot at the intersection of two streets, I have plenty of straight edge along the sidewalk to use as a straight starting edge. I can tell by feel if the two front wheels of the mower are going onto the grass at the same time. Then, as my feet come to the edge of the grass, I check again to make sure I am facing straight in. I walk in six or eight steps and back out as straight as I can. Sometimes I do move over a bit and try to cut some new grass on the way back, but I know I may be missing something, so I lean over and check the cut. Fortunately for me I can reach all the areas of the lawn by going in six or eight steps from each of the borders. The hill is the worst part, so I get plenty of exercise by going straight up and holding the mower as I back down.

How do I know where I am? I first learned the shape of the yard while raking leaves in the fall. Raking covers the same area as mowing. I can hear the rustle of the leaves and feel the pull of the leaves against the rake, but it is not quite as critical in spacing as mowing is. With the lawn mower the grass must be very high for me to hear the swish of the grass as it is cut, but listening over the roar of the mower engine is one of the least efficient ways to know what I am cutting.

One of the things I learned about moving over at the inner end of a cut is that, when I turn to move, I usually leave a small area right at the corner between the two cuts, so I angle back, go forward to be sure that the cut is square at the top, and then back out.

When I am finished, or think I am, I usually walk along the more critical areas while leaning over to feel for spots I may have missed. I also usually have a sighted critic, my wife, check for spots I have missed. If I really did miss some small area and I didn't know about it, the worst thing that could happen is that it would keep growing until the next time. I think I would be unlikely to miss the same spot twice in a row.

I am sure by now you have decided that some of my techniques would not work well for you, and you may even have thought of some others of your own that would work on your lawn. Happy lawn mowing.