My father cut off the ends of two of his fingers while reaching for a stick that poked out from under the lawn mower he was pushing. Zing! Blood and bone.
It was a seminal event for a man whose upkeep of the family home and property was the very essence of his soul. Everyone was amazed that he’d ignored common sense in doing what he did, common sense being one of my father’s fortes. In fact, a self-inflected accident was such an out-of-character, image-shattering gaffe that he began to wonder if perhaps he was not entirely at fault. Perhaps if someone had been a more conscientious raker-of-lawns, then the stick would not have been there in the first place, and he would not have had to reach for it, and he would not have inadvertently let the index and middle fingers of his left hand drift ever-so-slightly beneath the rim of the lawnmower deck, and so on.
In my defense, I submit that I was, and always have been, a reliable lawn steward. Growing up, I raked up hundreds of bushels of leaves and sticks, dug out thousands of dandelions, and cut square miles of lawn. I even cut the neighbor’s lawn until their 25-year-old parrot died after choking on some scrambled eggs. No more Polly want a cracker croaking from the lilacs. The facts of their parrot dying and me not cutting their lawn any more were unrelated—I was headed off to college. But I liked that parrot. She was a classic of parrotness. Her name really was Polly and she did loudly insist that she wanted crackers. Unfortunately, she got scrambled eggs.
Which brings us to England.
According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), British gardeners have about 300,000 gardening accidents per year. Lawn mowers are leading culprits—no surprise—and are involved in about 6,500 annual mishaps (one imagines hundreds of stray digits scattered about the verdant lawns of England).
Flowerpots are a close second, accounting for more than 5,000 calamities. Thankfully, it’s difficult to imagine a flowerpot causing the mayhem of a lawn mower. Nevertheless, don’t turn your back on any flowerpots—obviously not all of them are well-intentioned.
Pruners grab third place on the list and unfortunately, it’s not at all difficult to conjure up the kinds of injuries that pruners are capable of administering.
Of course, picking on the Brits is low-hanging fruit because they’re so far away. Also, they have Prince Charles, who sort of looks like the poster boy for a-gardening-accident-waiting-to-happen, and who indeed some years ago suffer an eye injury while trimming trees. Where the Highgrove groundskeepers were at the time is anybody’s guess, possibly at a meeting of the Royal Trimmers and Pruners Society. I’ll add that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents proudly displays the yearly number of folks who have successfully maimed themselves, which feels a bit unproductive, marketing-wise, for the RoSPA.
Nevertheless, with good old American sprit de corps, we Yanks can thump our chests and claim a vastly superior 400,000 garden-related, emergency-room-worthy accidents per annum. Of these, more than 60,000 involve a lawn mower, toes being the most well, you know…
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission offers some sage observations on garden safety, such as the fact that the moving blades of rotary lawn mowers are hazardous (who knew?!!), wearing flipflops while mowing is unsafe (but oh so comfy), and that pushing a mower over rocks is ill-advised.
So in early spring when warm days have encouraged our lawn and associated weeds to grow like, um, weeds, I retrieve our mower from the shed for the first lawn trimming of the season. It rattles and squeaks as I maneuver it over the concrete patio and put it in position for starting. Old Chopper is a venerable gas-guzzler that refuses to die and provide me the emotional license to switch to a more guilt-assuaging electric model. With unfortunate dependability it roars to life at the very first pull, shaking off a winter’s worth of mechanical ennui and sluggish oil, and belches a nice round ball of fumes. Then it settles in, shuddering with anticipation like a leashed dog watching a squirrel.
I’ve never had a gardening accident, knock on wood, although as man and machine sally forth there’s enough clattering going on that I wonder if the blade is coming loose and is about to slice through the back of the mower housing like the weapon of an android ninja. It’s possible. But I calm the fears and sally on, and before long I’m wrapped in blissful white noise and the heady scent of fresh-cut grass.
Then I spot it: a stick laying just 20 feet ahead. It’s a medium-size piece of wood, two-feet long and maybe half an inch thick. I have several choices. One, I can stop the mower and remove the stick from my path. However, this is an inconvenience and interrupts the meditative state that mowing induces and that I so desperately enjoy. Two, I can run the mower over the stick, disdaining the USCPSC’s advice not to do so and trusting in Old Chopper’s hard-nosed ability to grind it to rough mulch, calamitous noises be damned.
Or three, I can approach with due caution and, just before the stick disappears beneath the deck, with the engine running, reach down to…