Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What I Was Thinking About While I Was Mowing . . .

We live on 24 acres; half is wooded, half isn't.  Of the 12 acres that's not woods, the house, barn, garden & lawn occupy two acres.  The other ten are meadows, mostly, and mowing them is my responsibility.  I have a Ford New Holland 1620 tractor and two mowers: a flail mower that does a slightly finer job (for the south meadow, which is between the house and the main road), and a brush hog for the rough cut that the middle and north meadows get.

The south meadow (pictured at left -- the tiny strip of gold between our lawn and the trees & cow barn in the distance) gets mowed every year, although we're trying the approach of mowing it only once in the autumn, after a killing frost, to encourage wildflowers.  The middle and north meadows are bigger, aren't seen by passers-by, and don't always get mown.  I know I last mowed the whole property in 2005, but some bits might have gotten done since then.

When not mown, of course, things grow -- predominantly goldenrod and milk weed.  We also have a lot of wild roses, which are a poor excuse for the genus Rosa: gangly foliage with more stems than leaves, very prickly, and negligible flowers for about a day & a half in the spring.  Blink and you've missed them blooming for the year.  Admittedly they can have pretty colored stalks -- reds and even purple! -- but that's far too little value for the pain, literally, they can inflict.  (On the plus side, they make a lovely crunchy noise when the brush hog goes over them -- very visceral and satisfying!)  If left long enough, the meadows would give way to brush, and then to small bushes and trees (hawthorn and buckthorn, for example) and then to larger trees.  Just like we learned in 8th grade science.

Okay, all of that description is to provide the context for what I was thinking about on the tractor this morning, as I did the last bit of the north meadow.  Because I hadn't mowed that bit for a while, various small mammals had made burrows and warrens amid the plant life.  I know because I can see the holes and even watch as the animals scurry away from the tractor.  During a previous mowing of the north meadow, I watched a wild turkey think that if it flew into the stuff I hadn't mowed yet, I wouldn't see it.  Silly turkey.  On that same occasion, I was working in a particularly lush bit where the plants were almost as tall as I was on the tractor when a buck -- with points and everything! -- leaped out of the brush and with two bounds was over the fence and gone.  Incredibly dramatic and just a little bit unnerving.

I don't want to kill any of these animals, although I recognize that by destroying the foliage, I'm effectively destroying their habitat.  But I get to do this because -- well, because I can.  In human terms, I own the land and that ownership gives me the right to do with the land pretty much what I want.  But until I do mow it, that meadow belongs to the animals, and they can do what they want with it.  So the real reason I can mow down their habitat is because there's nothing living there that is big enough or scary enough to stop me.  Not the deer, and certainly not the bunnies.  There is a bear that wanders through our neck of the woods, so to speak; our neighbors have seen it and even taken its picture.  I thought about that bear while I was mowing.  It might be big enough to scare me if I was just standing around, but on the tractor, I'm sure to be even bigger and scarier to it.  Particularly if I raise up the front-end loader!

In effect, the tractor makes me big & scary enough to face down any animal I might encounter.  Which is what guns do, isn't it?  And suddenly I understood a bit better the reason why the rationale for gun control is difficult to argue to gun owners.  Their guns make them feel bigger & scarier, even if they are never likely to face anything particularly threatening.  That feeling of safety and security is part of our reptile brains, and thus less susceptible to reason and logic.  If I thought my tractor was the only thing that kept me safe from bears, I wouldn't want to give it up either -- and no amount of logic would convince me to.

Here's the thing: all this tells us is that we're animals.  And we are.  This instinct to be big & scary, and to own the equipment to accomplish that, is not a rationally defensible position.  It's not rationally defensible when we humans buy SUVs, which have poor safety ratings but make the driver feel bigger & scarier.  It's not rationally defensible when the issue is owning guns.  Most of us don't need a gun to defend us against predators, but gun owners really think they do.  Our day-to-day lives don't include encounters with scary animals -- including scary humans -- to justify rationally owning a gun.  And if you think actually need to kill a deer to survive, then I would suggest you take the money you spent on that rifle and plant a subsistence garden in your backyard.

I actually feel more sympathy with gun owners.  Not that does me much good.  I doubt there's a card-carrying member of the NRA (and I'm sure I know a few) who would admit that the only reason he or she owns a gun is because it makes them feel like a bigger & scarier animal in a world with big & scary animals. So the argument continues.  Maybe they're right and I'm wrong.  But my tractor tells me otherwise.


  1. You have to mow 12 acres? Wow! Mind you, I would absolutely love to ride around on one of those sit-on lawnmowers for a couple of hours. I'd probably die of an asthma attack but I imagine it would be fun.

    I'm with you on the guns. Every Swiss man has a gun from having served in the army.

  2. Sorry about the asthma; mine is triggered by cold air or intense exercise, so the mowing (thank goodness) isn't a problem.

    Actually, we have a ride-on mower, but it's my husband's toy (a John Deere -- he now collects John Deere tchotchkes, which is so delightfully rural American for a guy from Oxford!). My tractor is a proper tractor -- on the smaller side, but just like the farmers use. I should add a photo of it to my blog so you can see. (Starman has taken photos of me on the tractor, but they're so unflattering: Literally, it makes my butt look big!)

    Somehow, my cultural stereotypes of the Swiss aren't quite lining up with nearly universal gun ownership. I imagine they all have proper gun locks & gun safes and never ever let their children play with the guns. In other words, not like here.

  3. Don't be fooled by Swiss neutrality! All neutrality means is that they try to maintain their splendid isolation and not fight with their neighbours. But they are totally paranoid about security - in my opinion - and they are armed to the hilt. Every village has a nuclear bunker. They also have strange things like secret airports in mountains. I once collected my husband after he'd done his annual stint in the army. He told me to meet him at the barracks and gave me directions to a field in the middle of nowhere. Apparently, the barracks were somewhere in the vicinity - I'm assuming underground. All very odd.

  4. Okay, Sarah -- it's official: you ARE the most exotic person I know!