On a recent Friday afternoon I did something I haven’t done in 20 years, and it was good for what ails me.

I went to Lowe’s, bought a fancy new push mower and mowed my lawn.

During the two decades we lived on a forested hill in Maine, I owned a John Deere lawn tractor and loved cutting my two-acre lawn. It was excellent mental therapy, something I could accomplish in a world where I had little or no control over events that make me wonder if, in fact, our species is evolving after all.

Now we have a Pinehurst cottage in a small arboretum, with beautiful paths that wind whimsically through and among islands of mature flowering shrubs — a bit overgrown and wild at the edges, exactly what I needed at this stage of my life. A secret garden that just needs a little love and regular attention, somewhere I can slip away and think or not think about a world beyond my garden at the edges of the day.

The mower I purchased is a fancy self-propelled rig with a simplified starter system and all kinds of advanced safety and mulching options, nothing like the cantankerous, sputtering Lawn Boy I used as a teenager to make spending-money mowing lawns up and down Dogwood Drive. Even the gas can I bought to go with my new mower had a safety feature that took me a few minutes to figure out how to operate.

Truthfully, the job was a little tougher than I expected. I worked up quite a sweat and needed to concentrate on what I was doing to avoid running over things hidden in the grass or the irrigation system I haven’t yet figured out how to operate. After this I finished planting a trio of young hydrangea shrubs. Next up I’m building a fancy new wooden fence and gate.

This is useful work to do because I can’t fathom several things happening in the world this spring, including, but not limited to:

  • the tragedy of the missing Malaysian airliner made worse by CNN’s ghoulishly obsessive coverage of it;
  • the even more incomprehensible tragedy of the Korean ferry and all those kids that could be yours and mine;
  • a state legislature of pinheads that thinks its okay — and maybe even patriotic — to carry a gun to church or school (anywhere except the legislative building where they passed the law); and
  • political opportunists and TV gasbags who grandstand behind racists who are sadly still with us, from the fruited plains to the sidelines of the NBA.

I used to think America had grown beyond so much of this. But maybe like a neglected garden, things grow and fester if not properly paid attention to and cultivated. Weeds come back. Vines overtake.

The people I hail from were all Carolina farmers, simple people who found wisdom and meaning tilling the soil. Our family tree looks like an ancient oak with roots that go back to the middle 18th century. They were regular church-goers, rural Methodists and Baptists who knew how to throw a homecoming supper on the lawn, baptize a baby, celebrate a wedding, grieve a loss, hold a funeral. Most probably never ventured more than a hundred miles from their homes yet they sent their farm-boy sons off to fight for the Confederacy and, later, America in two world wars, Korea and Vietnam.

My grandfather was a rural polymath and simple man named Walter who loved cheap King Edward cigars and church hymns but rarely darkened the doorway of the church. He was a quiet fellow who could make anything with his hands and went no further than the third grade but married a proper “book-educated” woman named Beatrice. He always allowed folks down on their luck and traveling rough, regardless of their skin color, to stay for free in a spare but clean bedroom built at the back of his barn in Guilford County.

My grandmother, worried about their souls and bodies, would feed them and maybe offer a bit of Scripture for the road. Sometimes the travelers would work a spell on the farm before they moved on. One black man ended up staying on permanently. I have a photograph of my grandfather and this “colored” man who became one of his best friends standing side by side in front of the barn. Sadly his name is lost in time but that photograph reminds me of who I am and the place I come from.

My late grandmother Taylor, that proper book-educated woman I spoke of, used to say you’re always closer to God’s heart in a garden. Like my silent grandfather for whom I’m named, I’ve learned this is true. I even love hymns and fancy a cheap cigar now and again.

Is there anything more satisfying on a warm spring afternoon than the smell of a just-cut lawn and the beauty of new grass coming up in winding paths among the ancient flowering shrubs of a secret garden?

I think not.

For a moment that never lasts long enough, I’m at genuine peace and the world I can’t fathom beyond the edges of my little patch of earth is simply a worry for anther day.

The new mower has a built in nozzle that lets you attach a garden hose and flush out the housing when you’re finished.

Amazing how lawn-mowers, at least, have evolved.

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