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Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction 5.1 (2003) 1-11
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On the Mowing
It's a good year for blueberries and I love blueberries, but I'm worried about where such abundance might lead in the long run.
The demise of the mowing?
The mowing is what brought me here, and the mowing—not the cramped, moldy cabin with its annual infestations—is what has kept me coming back for more than a dozen years.
I learned of the place from an ad in the paper: Quiet cabin with view of Monadnock.
"Quiet" was good—I was hoping to complete a novel—and "view" was essential—how else could one bear all those inside hours. But writing is lonely, and I didn't know a soul in New Hampshire. Born in New York City, now settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, my hunger for country had generally taken me down roads with less dire license plates. Week after week, I noticed—and skipped over—that ad, but after rejecting a slew of too-suburban places in Massachusetts, I finally dialed 603, the Live Free or Die state.
The next day I followed the landlord's directions—along the familiar numbered routes, to the unfamiliar ones, to the ones that had no numbers or names. Right at the fire station; right again at the little red house; then follow the dirt road. I followed and followed, through a forest so thick it offered barely a glimpse of rooftop or daylight. I hoped this guy was on the level, and I was beginning to lose faith when I spotted the promised "Y" with its tree laddered by two-by-fours sporting a variety of stalwart names.
Pulling into the next driveway, I saw a skinny, fifty-something man with thick glasses, looking up from his woodpile. Was that a smile? Confronted by such tentativeness, my own voice boomed. "Are you Harvey Tolman?" [End Page 1]
I offered my hand. He dropped his axe. We shook.
"We could take my truck," he said, "or walk up to the cabin through the mowing."
"Let's walk," I said—almost always the better choice, I've discovered, and "the mowing," whatever that was, reminded me of "the gloaming" from that song in Brigadoon that had once flared all my adolescent longings.
So off we went behind the woodpile, Harvey and I, weaving our way through a thick stand of trees until suddenly we were blinded by an astounding light.
There, sprawling in front of us, was what I, raised in Queens, probably would have called a field. And a field, let's face it—even a small, flat, shorn one—is a good thing any old place or time but especially after a long, dark drive. And this one—five acres, ten? I don't have the acreage sense, but it was big. A whole world. Irregularly shaped, climbing and dipping and climbing again, you couldn't take it all in at one glance or guess how far it went. All you knew was the glory of so much tall grass doing what it does best—swaying in the bluesy spring wind. The cabin was nowhere in sight. But just a step or two into that honey-colored expanse and I knew this was the place for me.
My first June "on the mowing," as I quickly learned to think of it, was cold, buggy, and lonely. Now and again, I saw station wagons parked on the western edge near paths that led who-knew-where, but I never met their drivers. The cabin I'd pass near the bottom of the mowing was clearly uninhabited. As for the one about 20 wooded yards from mine, it lay eerily empty except on weekends when a jeep full of rowdy teenaged boys arrived, sometimes with parents, always with rifles they liked to fire at unpredictable hours and at targets I didn't want to imagine. Mostly I stayed at my desk, from where I could look down the dirt driveway onto my slice of heaven. Often in...