A personal war on the lawn

A warm, wet spell has seen an even more pronounced rampage of greenery than usual for this time of year. The rustle of grass growing out of control can almost be heard above the frequent showers as men watch, frowning, from their living-room windows, powerless to halt the green tide.

Alas, fantasising about making an almost instantaneous impact on the environment with as big a machine as possible seems to go hand-in-hand with testosterone poisoning. Ride-on mowers are proudly displayed to friends, and are examined and admired with the same degree of envy and respect afforded exhibits at a classic car rally.

There are many theories behind the phenomenon known as the lawn, one being that it was originally an attempt to emulate the semi-rural estates of the landed gentry. It's difficult to apply this to your typical quarter-acre slice of paradise, but the psychology is sound. A lawn is a status symbol - why else would we lavish so much time and care on them?

In New Zealand we are mercifully free of the moles and gophers that famously decimate lawns in Britain and the United States but, in our rural areas at least, grass grubs and the chickens who love to excavate them can make grown men cry.

Finding myself with a hectare to control when I moved to the country, it became clear that a push mower wasn't going to cut it. I managed to maintain a sad little moat of mown lawn around our house, but the pampas ruled everywhere else - looming like a solid mass of triffids waiting patiently for the opportunity to reclaim ground.

So, I was thrilled when my wife presented me with an antique scythe - and delighted in how ergonomically perfect the gracefully curving wooden handle felt to hold. Great swaths of grass fell instantly before my wildly swinging onslaught. "I am the Death of grass!" I'd exalt, until the absurdly long blade would find a hidden rock or tree stump and I'd come to a juddering halt.

As satisfyingly physical as scything was, the effort and blisters didn't really justify the fairly modest results, and so the 21st century interceded in the form of a huge, petrol-driven scrubcutter.

Sporting handlebars like a motorcycle and requiring a harness to support its weight, this was the evolutionary pinnacle of the humble lawn trimmer - on steroids. Steroids were almost required to be able to operate this behemoth as well but this time treacherous rocks and tree stumps tended to disintegrate in showers of sparks and wood chips.

The scrubcutter's main drawback was the noise. On one never-to-be repeated occasion, I accidentally snagged my ear- muffs on a low-hanging branch, and the exposure to the engine sound made my ears ring for days. It was also frequently pointed out to me by my significant other that this weapon of grass destruction was absolutely no fun to listen to for hours on end either.

The scrubcutter's life burned brightly but relatively briefly, the mighty beast finally succumbing to an internal fault that was too expensive to fix.

A ride-on mower was the only remaining option, and since "Big Red", a sprightly Masport five-speed, was delivered, we've not looked back.

It's definitely a more sedentary way of keeping our grass down - I've been known to wear my iPod under the ear muffs - but the result is unrivalled.

On a sunny day, meeting the gentle challenge of grooming an area of grass with as few unhurried traverses as possible, overlapping each pass by just the right degree and keeping these graceful sweeps as straight as possible is as close to nirvana as a man on a large- bladed machine can hope to achieve.

The Dominion Post