My husband missed his grand opportunity to have a video go viral when he reached down onto the zero-turn lawn mower and punched the throttle just as I pushed the two levers all the way forward.
An immediate jolt accompanied by screaming resulted in a cut pattern across our pasture that resembled more of a winding country road than a pristine golf course green.
It was not the first time I’d been on a zero-turn lawn mower — that was at my father’s house, where I ran his straight into the barn door. You would think that incident alone would deter me.
But when I drove down my rural road and found a 10-year-old neighbor mowing with the same style of machine, I knew I had to dedicate myself to the craft of lawn manicurist and master this beast.
So, I resolved during our summer of COVID-19, with many events canceled, that I would learn a new way to mow. And it was not easy. There are a lot of things about these newfangled lawn mowers that I just did not understand.
For years, we had a push mower. After all, the kids needed a chore. They left, and we inherited a family riding lawn mower. You know the kind that when you sit on it, it goes so slow you can steer with your knees and scroll Facebook with your hands. But a zero-turn? Well, that required all my faculties focused on the task.
All the wrong way
The first thing I learned was speed is in my hands. On the old mower, the throttle controlled speed, but on the zero-turn it’s the two levers. When I pushed them both all the way forward, holy cow, the speed of the zero-turn was like 200,000 times (exaggeration intended) that of my old riding mower.
I bounced across a pasture — mind you it had been home to sheep for 12 years — hitting ruts and almost flying off the seat. I clung to the levers for dear life. And then I learned the second thing: Don’t pull back on one lever more than the other.
NEW MACHINE: I was not putting together puzzles or learning to sew masks during state shutdowns. Instead, I was in the fresh air learning how to maneuver this zero-turn mower. For the record, it is a lot harder than it looks. Even my dog agrees. Sorry, she just wouldn’t move! Love our farm dogs.
Shoot fire, I overcorrect when driving a car, but this type of mistake can lead you into a 360 tailspin. I went around and around until I managed to get both hands moving together. By that time, I was headed straight for the tree line. And then I learned the third thing: There is no ducking out of the way of low limbs.
On the old riding lawn mower, I would just gently lean off the seat to miss low branches. On the zero-turn, when I leaned, I took only one lever with me. You guessed it, I almost fell off and then began to drive in circles again. And that’s when I learned the fourth thing: Ask your husband how to stop.
There is no brake pedal on a zero-turn mower. So, I thought if I just get my hands together at the center the machine, it will come to a complete halt. Nope. As he waved both his hands out from his chest from across the field, I figured it out — push the levers open. And then I learned the fifth thing: I am not a quitter.
I turned the machine off. My husband approached laughing. It was a wild ride. I was a little embarrassed. But he reassured me, “Honey, it is a wide-open field, you’re not going to hit anything.” So I turned the key, started it up and began mowing.
I practiced all summer. My lines got straighter. I didn’t do as many doughnuts on the corners. I improved.
COVID-19 came in like my new lawn mower — full speed, making it difficult to control. Here in rural America, we were bobbing and weaving with our jobs, farms, kids’ schools and life in general. But we didn’t give up. Instead, we learned.
This year, we mastered online meetings for education and fellowship. We increased our interactions with consumers by offering food directly from the farm. We helped by delivering groceries and medicine to the elderly who could no longer go to the store. We learned to say goodbye and extend prayers for simply peace.
We realized that no virus, nothing, will stop us from being people who care so much about our communities, our country, our friends and our families that we will learn new ways to do things. What did you learn in the year of COVID-19?