Mowing is such a violent act! Although we wouldn't even think of putting our hands into the mower's rapidly spinning blades, we subject the living layer of our lawns to this destructive treatment. Only by putting on rose-colored glasses can we ignore the trail of death our mowing leaves behind: frogs severed in half; bees' bodies churned beyond recognition, butterflies mutilated, and lightening bugs that continue to glow for a moment after death. Equally horrific are the small creatures maimed for life or destined for a slow torturous death.
Given these unsettling images that are painful to record in writing, how can I present an unbiased consideration of mowing? Honestly, I really can't except that, realistically, we are chained to mowing until our cultural aesthetics change en masse, or until we change the landscape in ways that reduce or eliminate the need for mowing.
Historically, mowing is firmly rooted as a cultural tradition, especially in the United States. With the drought in California and adjacent regions, homeowners there are beginning to reconsider lawn as a landscape option. Here in the eastern United States, however, lawns are the norm. A green expanse of freshly mowed grass makes a landscape look snappy; it's a cue that the property is cared for; and, it's often a requirement for harmonious neighbor relations.
On the other hand, as if the massacre of living creatures were not sufficient reason to avoid mowing at all costs, mowing requires the limited natural resource of petroleum-based fuel. This fuel is not only costly, but its use for one hour of mowing is equivalent to driving 350 miles. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that a new gas-powered lawn mower produces the same amount of air pollution as 11 cars operated for the same amount of time.
Add to this the volume of weekly noise pollution and one wonders why we, as presumably sane human beings, continue to dedicate our time each week to this archaic and ecologically insane landscape tradition.
A cultural shift away from mowed lawns will not be an easy one considering the domination of lawns in our modern landscapes. Finding ways to ease this transition from lawns to living landscapes is, in my mind, a challenge worthy of embracing.