Featured Artwork by: Martine Mooijenkind
Tim’s arm flashes once, twice, and the third time is rewarded with a roar and a cloud of blue smoke which lazes over the fence into my backyard. It’s a bright morning and the air already carries a discordant miasma from machines like Tim’s, each skippered by a stolid T-shirted guy, in shades and headphones. Mowing doesn’t invite company, and I like that. It gives me time to think.
I can see his white shorts as he marches back and forth, the engine blatting away. I begin my first lap, walking on the green pile carpet in the wake of my blades. My old office at BP had grass like this, maintained by an army of gardeners who scuttled about, far below my 5th floor window. The Houston office complex was the US flagship, and appearances can nudge stock prices. So there they were. Tim’s mower is coming closer and grazing our fence. He turns again, I can see his head bobbing under his headphones.
As I swing back to complete my first lap, I’m mowing into the sun. Dew drops catch and bend the light, flaring brilliant instants of color. Tim’s mower is getting louder again. It seems everyone is out in some phase of yard work. Across the street, someone is revving their blower, and further down I can hear the sing of a string trimmer. My grass catcher is full. As I bend to detach it, I wonder briefly if any of the oil and gas I found and developed ever made it into their machines.
I pad to the side yard, shoes dripping and confettied in green, and upend the catcher. Large clots of wet grass tumble and slide into the yard debris bin. Last night I watched the news. A reporter paced the Somalia desert with a polite, soft spoken herdsman guiding bony, listless goats through a desiccated clay court landscape. He gestured toward a confluence of dry washes and some empty cisterns. The soil that should have been rooted in grassland, blew about him in red gusting winds that belled his garments. This is the rainy season, he kept saying.
There is a sudden loud rattling choke and I snap a look over the fence. Tim continues to plod unconcernedly behind his mower. Mole hill, I figure, and move to take another lap. A climate scientist followed the Somali’s interview. Seated in his office in the UK, he described how the sudden increase in carbon dioxide to levels not seen in more than 800,000 years are to blame for the Somali droughts, and, he added, the destruction of other societies occupying climate tipping-point frontiers.
My laps tightened. Tim, rendered in thin strips through the cedar planking, was stopped, engaged in animated conversion with his son, unknowable over the drone of the mower. Staying on track, I turned and marched toward the dappled shade of the cherry tree. I once tried to make a crude estimate of all the oil and gas I had a hand in coaxing from the ground. For sure more than 100 billion ft3 of natural gas, and maybe a few million barrels of oil. I stop and shift the position of clippings in the catcher, then continue with stained hands.
And land cleared for drilling sites? I slow my pace behind the mower. Maybe, all told, about ¾ of a square mile of apple orchards, wheat, cotton, corn, hay, and natural land. And CO2?… Tim’s done. I can see him walking into his house through the zoetrope of the pickets. He brushes his feet at the sliding glass door, removes his gloves and enters clean-handed.
And CO2? I unclip the catcher and heave it into the yard debris container. The lawn looks perfect, like a putting green. I stroll onto it and think of the Somali’s smiling children and how the scientist looked sad. I know the number. I’ve calculated it many times. For all my efforts, about 12 billion pounds of CO2 have been added to the earth’s atmosphere. Maybe even twice that.
. . .
I flip the mower over and wheel it clicking into the garage. The neighbors always seem to look at me strangely when I mow. To them, my old-fashioned push mower is a quaint anachronism. But for me, it is quite another thing. I place it against the wall next to my cobwebby Lawn Boy, unused since ’14 when I left the oil business. Then I go to the service sink and wash my hands.