My New Lawn Mower

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

May 18, 2016

About eight years ago, I moved from overpopulated, environmentally challenged California to rural western Pennsylvania and into a house that has about an acre and a half of grass. The outgoing owner told me that he had a verbal agreement with a neighbor to mow about once a week. Being the new guy in town, and not wanting to immediately disrupt long-standing financial arrangements, I inherited the informal contract.

But immediately I recognized the pitfalls. Of course the neighbor used a gas-powered mower that produced deafening noise and foul air. Occasionally, he enlisted his son to help – two gas-powered mowers that literally shook the house as they plowed by. The timing was always bad too. Mowing was on his schedule, not mine. And since western Pennsylvania has more than its fair share of rainy summer days, that meant that I had to leave my outdoor patio and take cover indoors on good weather days when it made the most sense to mow.

Despite the aggravation, I couldn’t figure out how to extricate myself from the bad deal I had made. The neighbor is a good guy, and turned out to have handyman skills that I don’t, and which he was willing to put to use upon request.

Cut calories, clean up the air.

Then one day, on a routine medical checkup, my doctor said, as doctors always do, that more exercise would be a good idea. A light went off. I told my neighbor that I was under doctor’s orders to get more exercise, and had purchased a push mower. I softened the blow to him that his mowing services were terminated by telling him that extra odd jobs would be coming his way.

Mowing an acre and a half of grass is no small feat. I’ve sectioned the lawn off into four separate mowing sessions of about one hour each. But here’s what I’ve accomplished. Each hour pushing a mower burns more than 400 calories, and eliminates the gas-powered mowing that in one hour generates as much pollution as four hours of driving a car. Emissions and particulate matter from power mowers can create lung damage, asthma attacks, heart conditions and lead to premature deaths from exposure to air pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that five percent of the country’s air pollution originates from the more than 50 million people cutting their grass on any given summer weekend. Moreover and unbeknownst to most power mower users, the Consumer Product Safety Commission identifies riding-style mowers as the cause of 95 deaths annually.

A side, if less significant, benefit: I’ve become something of a local hero around town. At first, people driving by gave me odd looks. After all, when was the last time you saw anyone with a push lawn mower?

But now, passersby stop to ask where I got my mower which gives me an opportunity to give them a brief tutorial on its multiple benefits.

Unlike California, Pennsylvania gets significant rain, so parched Californians should install desert landscaping. In one swoop, that eliminates the need to water, and makes power mowers obsolete.

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