Whether it's needed or not

Michael Johansen
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A woman walks along the beach beside my front yard in North West River. She can't help looking my way, since I'm making a lot of noise. I've protected my own hearing with a pair of industrial ear muffs, but she's got nothing shielding her ears from the obnoxious growl of the internal combustion engine I'm pushing in a slow irregular spiral around my lawn.

The woman only nods and smiles as she passes, but I nevertheless feel a need to apologize.

"Sorry for disturbing the peace," I call, not knowing if she even heard me over the sound of the gasoline-powered mower.

This year, summer in central Labrador started with fire, but it's ending with rain. Hot, dry days were the norm three months ago, but they've become rare, opening only small windows of opportunity for homeowners who need to trim the grass, or for people who want to enjoy the peace and quiet of a Labrador weekend.

I always feel guilty mowing and if that particular woman hadn't happened by, I might have found someone else to apologize to. For the first few summers I lived in this seaside house I never once cut the lawn. Instead, I just called it my front meadow and enjoyed the sight of the many and varied wildflowers that grew unhindered around me.

Soon, however, the drawback of my approach to garden care became apparent. Central Labrador's growing season may be short, but it's enthusiastic. Several hardy species - first the head-high lupins (which always remind me of the alien triffids of science-fiction fame) and afterwards the native willows and alders - quickly take advantage of any householder laziness to overwhelm all available growing space. I saw that if I didn't mow my lawn, I'd lose it. It wouldn't stay a beautiful wildflower meadow all by itself.

So now, twice a summer, I borrow a neighbour's lawn mower and cut down all the purple, yellow, white, orange and blue flowers that spring in such abundance from the soil around my home. I leave them alone for a while to give them a chance to show their colours, but I can't wait too long because the thicker they grow, the bigger the challenge they present to an ordinary mower.

I leave the cuttings where they fall to let them rot to feed the ground, and I return the borrowed machine to where it belongs until the end of the summer. By then the meadow has reappeared, although thinner than before.

I procrastinate as long as possible before tackling it again, waiting until most of the plants have gone to seed, but in the end the timing's up to nature and I have to grab the first available dry day - thus compounding my guilt by disturbing a stranger's peaceful walk. You see, it's not just the destruction and noise I regret making; it's also the filth I'm spewing into the atmosphere by burning gasoline.

To assuage my guilt, the cleanest and cheapest option would be for me to use an old-fashioned push mower. Unfortunately, to use one properly you have to use it often, since it just won't work on thick and tangled grass. I'd be mowing all the time and I'd never be able to let the plants grow tall enough to enjoy the flowers.

So, while the simplest way is usually the best, to practise the most guilt-free mowing, I have to choose a more complicated solution. Luckily there's already one out there: to cut my lawn emission-free (although there's likely carbon dioxide released during the manufacture and shipping of all the components I need) all I have to do is disconnect my house from the dirty hydroelectric grid and install a pack of batteries that can be cheaply and efficiently replenished using wind turbines, solar collection panels and maybe even geothermal tapping.

With such a system, I could easily and cleanly power a moderate range of appliances and equipment in my home and outside of it, including, twice a year, a quiet electric lawn mower.

There'd be no need to say sorry for that.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Geographic location: Labrador, North West River

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