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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: August 15, 2019

Janie Thibodeau Martin

Our Lawn Obsession

A few weeks ago I was driving down our road when my eye caught an odd motion in the neighbor's lawn. Up the side of a gently-sloped ditch came "something" with two lighted "eyes" on the front. It spun in place and headed back down the ditch as I drove past. I was instantly creeped out, and couldn't imagine what I had seen. It did not look like a remote controlled toy - it was too big. And I didn't see anyone standing anywhere with a controller. I was thinking that perhaps the aliens we have been warned about in the National Enquirer exist, and are here in Central Wisconsin.

On my way back home, there it was again, so I slowed down to get a closer look, my curiosity overcoming my discomfort with the thing. It was about the size of a push lawn mower deck, but had no handle. It was self-navigating quietly, and turned; avoided obstacles; and kept a steady slow speed.

Turns out I have seen the outdoor equivalent of those little vacuum cleaners that roam houses while owners are away. These outside beasts are called "robotic lawn mowers," or "mow-bots." The owner somehow defines a "box" for them to mow using GPS navigation. They run on an electrical charge, with one model I saw on line running up to 70 minutes per charge. That model was recommended for a lawn of less than half an acre of grass.

"Entry level" pricing seems to run from $1600 up to $3500. That's a LOT of money for lawn mower, but you get released from the bonds of being outside pushing or riding a mower, and if you have a big yard, physical conditions which make mowing difficult or just dislike mowing, that could be a huge benefit. They are self-mulching, and come with covers so you can run them in the rain.

And if you a person who HATES being awakened at some unholy hour of the morning by your neighbor's noisy lawn mower, you might want to tell them about mow-bots.

While the looks of the thing continues to scare me, I have to admit if everyone mowed with one of these, we'd cut down not only on noise pollution, but also air pollution. If you added up the fossil fuel footprint of our obsessions with big lawns, the pollution reduction would be significant.

While they are advertised as being able to avoid obstacles, we have twice observed our neighbor's mow-bot stuck in his culvert. Needless to say, while it looked pitiful, I offered it no aid.

According to A.A.R.P. magazine, Americans spend about $29 billion (yes, billion) on our lawns every year. Some of that is chemicals (another problematic issue,) some is hired labor, and some is watering costs, but a lot of it is mowing equipment and fuel.

If you live in town, you don't have a lot of choice about frequent mowing, because if you don't, someone will post a snarky comment about you on Facebook, or you will get a visit from a municipal official. In Madison, where I did a lot of walking recently, many city lawns are composed solely of perennials like tiger lillies, hostas, and other alternative ground covers that don't require mowing. The effect is charming, in my eyes at least. And since a lot of Madison is hilly, this approach is safer than trying to mow at steep angles.

Since my encounter with the mow-bot I've been noticing how many people around us mow vast swaths of grass around their homes. I believe part of the reason is the mowing season here is only six months; then you stop for the cold months. If our mowing season was all year like it is down South, I bet some of this enthusiasm for big lawns would die out.

I am actively resisting expanding the lawn area at our home. Besides not liking the use of chemicals and the need to run an engine to mow, it's a huge time sink. I welcome the wildlife to use the un-mowed areas. When I look at the big natural meadow between our home and the road, I see the birds, butterflies and bees hard at work making a living in the undisturbed areas. I don't see an area that "should" be lawn. It just took a change in my mindset, which I admit took a while.

I recently noticed our neighbor now has TWO mow-bots. Either one couldn't keep up, or he's expanding his lawn even further. Don't look for me to get a mow-bot any time soon. I'd fence the area off and get goats first. Goats aren't creepy like mow-bots are.

Song stuck in my head: "The Sounds of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel. Beautiful melody, sad lyrics.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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