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Kyle Eller: Save the planet: Get a reel mower

Picture it: a beautiful summer Sunday morning. Only you are not picturing anything but a sweet dream. You are sleeping the sleep of royalty. Fresh, clean sheets and an open window with a hint of fresh breeze regulate the perfect sleep temperature...

Picture it: a beautiful summer Sunday morning. Only you are not picturing anything but a sweet dream. You are sleeping the sleep of royalty.
Fresh, clean sheets and an open window with a hint of fresh breeze regulate the perfect sleep temperature, like some divine personal thermostat. Your breathing is deep and easy.
Somewhere in your subconscious you note the lullaby of a few birds (surely descended from Mozart) chirping their peaceful morning tune. The space-time continuum has fluxed to give you this one perfect moment.
And then a roar to wake the dead obliterates your moment of enlightenment. Your neighbor has chosen this utopian instant -- as you stood on the cusp of solving the world's problems and unlocking life's secret meaning -- to mow his lawn.
You glare at the clock, 7:42 a.m., and curse. Closing your window to bar the machine's whine and the breeze, which now carries its acrid exhaust, you know it's no use. The moment is gone. Forever.
You don't begrudge your neighbor his mower. After all, you mowed your lawn just the day before. You just chose to do it after 8 a.m.
Lawn mowers are important. We don't grow rock lawns here in the Northland, and we like things neat.
But consider a typical walk-behind mower:
* A volume somewhere between a Metallica concert and a 747 at takeoff.
* Engines that can produce more emissions than cars per gallon of gas used.
* Safety hazards, from thrown rocks to severed appendages.
* Notorious unreliability -- are you more likely to be awakened by a neighbor starting a mower or swearing at a broken one?
* The expense of purchase and operation, and of using fossil fuels.
Last summer, I found an alternative in technology from the early 1800s -- a human-powered push reel mower. They haven't changed much. You push, the blades spin, and the grass falls. Simple and elegant.
I noticed one when a neighbor in Duluth used one a few years back.
This was the same neighbor who studiously practiced simplicity -- no television, no telephone, a bike for transport and a backyard organic garden for food. I considered the mower part of his ascetic lifestyle, and, naturally, was intrigued. I was wrong about that mower being a sacrifice.
A move brought me a lawn to mow, and a power mower with it, supplied by the landlord. He supplied another one a year later when the first was stolen.
When the second wouldn't start, I took matters in my own hands. At a local hardware store, I bought a new reel mower for about $60.
I immediately found this simple device perfectly suited to its task, requiring only modestly more effort than any other push mower. If you're mowing six acres on a rider, a switch might hurt, but I discovered that anywhere you use a push mower, a reel mower is just as easy and has many advantages. To wit:
* It's quiet. Last night, as I mowed my lawn, a neighbor across the street sat on his front steps chatting on a cordless phone. I honestly think I could mow my lawn at 2 a.m. with no complaints.
* There are no emissions. Unless I've eaten too much garlic or beans.
* The mower still has sharp blades, but they are not pushed by a powerful, thoughtless gas engine, so the machine is safer. It throws no stones.
* It is simple, lightweight, sturdy and reliable, plus cheap and easy to operate.
* Renewable resources -- whatever I eat -- fuel the machine.
Mowing the lawn the reel way seems retro and hip, and I'll admit that's part of its attraction. I've had kids offer me Pokemon cards for just a couple of swipes across my lawn. Try getting a kid to pay you to mow your lawn!
When I'm done, my ears are not ringing, my nostrils are clean, and my shoes and legs are not coated in splattered grass and dandelions.
And it isn't a hippie thing or tree-hugger response to industrialization. It's just common sense, a way to be nice to my neighbors, myself and the planet, while saving a few bucks and some hassle.
So, as spring weather turns your days sunny and your grass long, do yourself a favor. Cut noise pollution and promote clean air. Get yourself a real -- make that a reel -- mower.
Kyle Eller is a reporter and columnist for the Budgeteer.

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