Parks And Gardens 3: Not Scarlet

I’m singing along with my motor mower. 

It’s a big, bright red Hayter, with a Briggs and Stratton engine that emits a steady, deep-throated roar, punctuated by popping and crunching noises as it picks up and pulverises pine cones and twigs, hurling them rearwards into the grass collector, along with a flurry of fragrant clippings. 

I got the idea from a friend at college. He used to amuse himself while shaving by singing “Love Me Do” to the hum of his electric razor. The roar of the mower lends itself to hymns that have lots of long notes in them, like “Amazing Grace”. Fortunately for those passing by, it drowns me out almost entirely - but I can hear myself clearly, in my head. 

I’m having a good time. The sun is shining strongly, it’s mid-morning, and I’ve left my shirt on the truck to which I return from time to time to empty the grass box. As the green clippings shower down, their pungent aroma rises up on the warm air and envelops me. Later, as I steer the mower around the rose beds, the fragrance of the blood-red blooms drifts across to me, too. Alan, the lanky, gloomy gardener with the thick glasses, calls to me as he carries his edging shears over to the next bed. “Get yer shirt on, lad! Ye’ll get yer back burnt, an’ then ye’ll know about it!” I laugh. He’s bundled up in his overalls and there are beads of perspiration on his furrowed brow. He doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself at all. 

I’m striding along in shorts and trainers, well pleased with the way that all this manual labour is improving my strength and stamina. What a fine figure of a man I must be by now! 

My imagination goes into overdrive. One minute I’m Adam, in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it, and the next, I’m Tarzan, with one eye on the river bank in case any crocodiles come crawling out onto the lawn. With one swift movement I snatch my sheath knife from my belt and hurl it towards the nearest tree trunk. Unfortunately, it hits handle first, and falls into the long grass. I retrieve it hurriedly, hoping no one has noticed.

They haven’t. It’s still quiet, and the café isn’t open yet. On the benches outside, two young women have parked their prams and are talking together. In the Ornamental Gardens, a middle-aged man is leaning on a stick, admiring the serried ranks of dahlias. I’m pleased. I helped to put them in. It’s an impressive display. 

I turn my mower towards the Boating Lake. Its surface is unruffled. All is peaceful, all is calm - and it’s so much easier than big books late into the night and scribbling away on endless sheets of narrow-lined file paper. I’ll be working on the boats on Saturday: it’s extra money, and, who knows, those two girls from the church might turn up again and…

The mower hits a stone and interrupts my reverie. It sprays my boots with gravel, and a dust cloud comes up and covers my jeans. I wrench the mower round, and start down the back street again. It tilts at an alarming angle as I try to cut right up to the edge of the backyard walls. There is a sharp, stinging pain in my left knee, and a dull ache in my lower back. I glance over the rickety wooden fence at the allotment, and I sigh. It looks like a jungle, and not the rus in urbe that it once was; and Tarzan left town a long time ago.

It’s 2019, and the idyll above belongs to the dim and distant past: and yet, for me, it’s only a moment away. That Proustian tea-and-petite-madeleine moment is when my mower coughs into life and the clippings fly and the scent of freshly-cut grass fills the air - that’s all it takes. I’m happy to have these memories.

That said, I do believe that I’ve spent too much of this life looking back. There is a trap set here for people like myself, unwary walkers through this world - always yearning for some supposedly golden age in our lives, a time that seemed to slip away before we knew how happy we were, and to which we long to return. F. Scott Fitzgerald sums it up succinctly in the last line of “The Great Gatsby”. (N.B. Please skip this if you’re ever going to read the novel. Don’t spoil it for yourself.)

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

What does the writer of Ecclesiastes say? Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. (Ecclesiastes 7.10.)

He’s right, of course. Failure to follow Paul’s example invites disappointment, distress and depression into our present. 

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4.11-13.)

It also makes us forget that there is a future for the born-again believer in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, that there is this pure, unbreakable, gospel promise.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14.1-3.)

When I was in distress, as a small child, alone or in difficulties, I would look forward to being back home, in the safety and security that I knew were waiting for me there. It’s not so very different, now. I’m looking to the future, and every day is bringing me a day nearer to my true and everlasting home.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21.1-5.)