Monday, January 22, 2007

The Almost Great Leipers Fork Fire Part 1: "Smoke Between Your Legs"

In my post last week about “The Burning Of The Christmas Tree” I mentioned that a fire-extinguisher is now required for most outdoor activities around our house. I said I would tell the story of why at a later date. That day has arrived. It’s a long story, so I will post half the story today, and the other half tomorrow.

The Almost Great Leipers Fork Fire Part 1: "Smoke Between My Legs"

Shortly after moving into our new home in Leipers Fork Tennessee in May of 2003, we made the decision to keep our 11 acres cleanly mowed. This decision was based mostly on the mess we caused the first time we had it hedge-hogged the week we moved in. At the time the grass had reached chest high and brought life to the old lyric “amber waves of grain.”

We weren’t quite sure what hedge-hogging the grass entailed, but we did know that we had an offer to do it for $200, while a lawn care company quoted $800 to mow it. Bring on the hogs. The next day a tractor was towed onto our spread and it proceeded to slice down all the grass and hay, allowing it to fall to the ground in neat rows about a foot high. While it did “cut” the grass, what it left behind was a foot high grass carpet that looked worse. We needed a better solution.

I decided we would invest in a lawn tractor- the biggest I could find- and so searched Home Depot and Lowe’s. I found one at Lowe’s with a 54” mowing deck, the largest they had. It was delivered the next day and I planned my first big mow the following day, Friday.

By this time the grass had managed to grow again to about 2-3 feet in most places. As I started out on my brand new Toro Lawn Tractor (sounds much better than riding mower) I quickly realized I wasn’t going to be able to cut the grass very short. My solution was to set the deck at the highest setting, cut it roughly in half, and then go back and mow the whole yard again to get it to the desired height.

Have you ever driven past a freight train and stared at it wondering if it was moving or not? I’m sure that’s what I looked like from our road while I was sitting on my lawn tractor amidst a sea of 3 foot grass, moving at about 2mph.

I finished round one 6 hours later. My neighbors across the street, Michael and Sally, came out to say hi and mentioned with a grin on their face that my cool new mower sure was slow. These are the neighbors I had just recently met when I got my truck stuck in several feet of mud and they tried to help me get it out with their tractor (see my post: Our Family’s Off-Road Adventure).

As I started to embark on round 2 I was disheartened. I couldn’t imagine, and my rear-end couldn’t take, another 6 hour stretch. As it turned out, it didn’t matter. Trying to mow 18 inches of standing grass layered with another 18 inches of fresh cut grass is not well ingested by a residential lawn tractor.

My speed was cut in half and I gave up. I reasoned that if I waited a couple of days for the cut grass to dry up, round 2 would go much better. I waited until Sunday afternoon, and then ventured out to complete my mission. A fateful decision.

I love mowing grass. It is an escape. With my earplugs in place it is surprisingly quiet. It is a time of solitude, reflection, peace, cigars and beer. The smells while mowing are one other part of the task I enjoy greatly- the smell of fresh cut grass, of trees and the creek, and cigar smoke. Those are the good smells. The right and proper ones. The smell of grass burning is not one of them.

When there is a foot or more of dead dried grass on the ground most mowers have a difficult time choking down the mess while also struggling with the new grass to be mowed. Mowers deal with this in different ways. Some constantly clog up and spit out huge mounds of grass that look like hair-balls from some prehistoric 10 foot house cat. Some act like bull dozers paving a path through the grass with a constantly shifting wall in front, and high walls to the side leaving a wake resembling the parted Red Sea.

My new mower’s trick was to act like a Havana cigar maker carefully rolling tight cylinders of grass under the front wheels that became increasingly compact and required me to stop the mower, get out, and pull the four foot grass cigars out from the side before continuing.

It was about an hour after I started on round 2 that Sunday, and I was about as far away from my house as possible on our land, that my peaceful thoughts and reflections were shattered by a not-right smell.

These were my thoughts: “Hmm… I smell something burning. It smells sort of like burning grass. That’s weird. Hey, there’s smoke coming up from between my legs. That can’t be good.”

Next- The Almost Great Leipers Fork Fire Part 2: "Two Person 500-Foot Fire Bucket Relays Rarely Work"

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