Mowing and Murder

A swath of wildflowers between a pond and old barn.
I left most of the wildflowers for butterflies and other pollinators.

Mowing is pretty boring, and I have a lot to mow. So sometimes I think about stories while I spend hours on the mower.

I’m also a sucker for the wildlife on my property. So my mowing/plotting sessions go a lot like this:

So what if she opens the door and finds a body? Maybe he’s been dead for a long — Move, little snake! Get away from the mower! — okay, so anyway, he was probably tortured before — hang on, lemme wait for this vole to get clear — so, tortured, and so there’s this traumatic issue with everything she imagines — oh, are you butterflies using these wildflowers? I guess they don’t have to be cut, after all.

I’ve heard some people say they’re disturbed by things written by people they know, like they can’t believe someone they know could imagine such things. But writing violence or horror doesn’t really predict violent or horrible behavior. I’ll eviscerate a fictional character, but when I saw a rabbit running into the field I was mowing instead of away from it, I deduced a nest of bunnies hidden somewhere and didn’t mow there for another two weeks. Most writers I know are like that — ruthless in fiction, but in reality such softies.

Goldenrod and other native plants stretching above eye-level view.
An eye-level view from my mower seat.

I’ve heard it speculated that the reason so many horror creators are commonly described as “the nicest people” is that they vent all their icky impulses and nasty behavior in their work. I’m not sure I wholly buy that, but I will say that having an outlet is arguably better than suppressing something until the pressure cooker blows. More importantly, I think there’s a big difference for most people between fiction and reality — I know lots of people who hate fisticuffs and yet watched The Avengers or other action films quite happily.

Every year I’m charged with mowing a maze for a big autumn party. It’s pretty fun, and the last couple of years I’ve used book titles as the basis for my design. No one’s noticed, which is fine; it just gives me a way to make sure the layout is significantly different each year.

Two trails blending smoothly in tall cover.
A perfect connection! Trail is still rough, just the first layout pass done, but the two pieces are meeting perfectly.

Mowing this is a bit of a challenge, as most of the cover is well over my head. I have to keep a pretty good sense of direction and distance. It’s good mental exercise!

This year I tried recording my progress via GPS. I didn’t use the indicator to plot the route — which, as it turns out, was fortunate — but I wanted to see if my trail looked from the air the way I imagined it in my head.

My tracker app is normally pretty darned accurate, able to track me on a specific woodland trail even in state forests and such. But normally it has a better sky view, and I don’t sit on it atop a vibrating machine. After about four passes over the trail, to take vegetation from six feet tall to smooth and navigable in the dark, my map looked something like this:

A ridiculously squiggly collection of lines over a map.
Something tells me each pass didn’t quite line up with the previous.

Well, if you do need to hide any bodies or anything, you might want to make your own map.

Black Labrador puppy with one paw resting on branch upon brush pile.
“I have subdued this branch on the brush pile. Do not fear, humans, you are safe.”

We did some work at home, too, and got significant help from Mindy, the Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy in training. She pulled on trimmed branches and chewed some sticks and spyhopped through the tall wildflowers. (Like most exploited service dogs, she never has any fun. #sarcasm Actually, just like us, dogs do their best work when they get to take breaks and play.)

This is my favorite time of year, when the sunlight is just at the perfect angle and all the colors break out. I’m gathering firewood (it’s not uncommon for us to lose power in the winter) and starting to think of my favorite autumn foods. Who else likes autumn?

Bookmark the permalink.


  1. I love this post! :D
    And yes, thanks for saving our butterfly food and the little animals.
    /from one who also veers to mow away from wildlife/ :)

  2. You may already know this, but milkweed is particularly important to let grow, because the Monarch butterflies are reliant on it. Their populations have been in decline for a few years, so the more milkweed the better.

    I’ve always thought mowing (we have just under 3.5 acres) is a great time to plot, too, but I have one problem–I often forget the awesomest bits by the time I’m finished! With the loudness of the mower, a voice recorder wouldn’t be any help, but stopping every few minutes to write something down doesn’t seem practical either… :D

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *