I love cutting the grass. It’s part exercise—I use a push electric mower—and part meditation. I mow diagonally, horizontally, and sometimes in big spirals. I say meditation because for the two hours it takes me to do the job, I can focus on the work at hand; no personal or world problems to solve, just the back and forth over the green landscape. My lawn is not manicured by any means—it has never been fertilized and has humps and rocks and a beautiful crop of dandelions—but when I look over my completed task, I imagine I’ve just finished up mowing the outfield at Fenway Park.

Even though I’m meditative, I suppose I am making some decisions. In the spring when the grass is at its most lush, and other plants are flowering too, I am the local grim reaper, pushing my mower back and forth. The dandelions persist, sometimes just bending over as the blade passes and other times growing too close to the ground to be disturbed; if weeds rebranded themselves, we would think of dandelions as the most beautiful of yellow flowers, brilliant against the green of spring. And I grow mindful of the violets and mayflowers and the wild strawberries. I cut around patches of blossoms and remind myself to come back and look for the strawberries later in the season.

When I mow in front of the house, a hill running down to the road, where the rugosa roses spread and push their way up through the lawn, I’m looking northwest and can see Islesboro in the distance. It’s purple, brown, and blue on the horizon. It’s far enough away that it becomes a distant kingdom transformed by light and air. Nearly every time I look out, it reminds me of the sunlight on the hills in Chile, where we visited our son Isaac when he was an exchange student in Valparaiso. I’m a traveler again, twenty years later, but can remember the cable car transporting us up the steep hillside where nasturtiums grew wild. Horizons open before us and open us up as well—to memory, to possibility, to dreaming about what we see in the distance. It makes us ready for a journey.

After I graduated from college, I traveled in Europe, living in Paris for a few months. The museums were free, so I had the opportunity to visit them many times. It was the deepest experience I had ever had with visual art, and I often found that after I was in a museum for a while looking closely at the paintings, the colors, shapes, and images would begin to come alive. One time I encountered Claude Monet’s landscape painting The Poppy Field Near Argenteuil (1873) and the red poppies were paint and flowers all at once, they were the essence of red, a mysterious spiritual presence in the field. The red of the poppies in France, the yellow of the dandelions in Maine. The landscape is outside of us, and lives within us as well. We see the world up close or at a distance. We hold the space in our bodies. We know the earth is our home. The air arrives from another continent or from across the road, carrying pollen and dust.

Kestenbaum dandelion copy

Stuart Kestenbaum, Dandelion.


Image at top: Claude Monet, The Poppy Field near Argenteuil, oil on cavas, 50 x  65.3 cm., 1873, Musée d’Orsay, Paris (courtesy of www.Claude-Monet.com).