I confess I have a bit of a thing about using non-powered tools. The clippers (secateurs I’d have called them back in England), the push mower.
This thing squeaks and wails almost as loud as the weed whackers and tractor-trailer size grass cutters of the “mow-and-blow” landscapers who do most of the work on people’s gardens around here. (“You do your own yard!?” There’s a Miami question that tells a lot about how class/property-ownership works here). Here I am, a non-native Miamian trying to conserve and even revive bits and pieces of the native flora and fauna, and how am I spending my Friday early evening: mowing the lawn and clipping the hedge (yet again). You can take the boy out of England, but what could be more quintessentially English and bourgeois than a spot of gardening. My god, grass isn’t even supposed to be growing here. Lawns in Miami require gallons of toxic chemicals to kill the plants that are actually better adapted to the soil and the climate and would outcompete the grass otherwise. Or lawns are just full of weeds, like ours. (What is a weed? That’s a fraught question for another post.)
The push mower gives me a bit of a workout, I suppose. If I oiled it and took care of it, it wouldn’t shriek so much. (I add a little iron to the soil each time from the rust on those blades.) Does it put me closer to nature? Well, yes, if a garden in Miami counts as nature. Shouldn’t I really be out restoring the imperiled bits of land that are our last remaining communally-owned lifeboats of critically endangered habitat, rather than cutting the grass around our own privately-owned scrap of land? (Well, I try to do my bit that way too. Save it, don’t pave it.) Gardening in the subtropics involves a lot of chopping, pruning, keeping nature from overtaking the artificial—but it also involves a level of care for the environment, an attentiveness to the precious small things drowned out by the SUVs and political toxicity of this place, and a moment to slow down and reflect. Where are those ants going? Why is a cowbird called a cowbird when it sounds like a cat? Is that *another* pineland passionflower seedling sprouting where you least expected it? The Frankfurt School theorist Theodor Adorno said in his postwar melancholic book Mimina Moralia that intellectuals were “at once the last bourgeois and the last enemies of the bourgeois” (I’m quoting from memory even though I could google it). I think that applies to gardeners too. Where does that leave gardener-intellectuals, I wonder?