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Becoming the pool man I always wanted to be

Frog footbridge in Ralph's pool
Ralph Gardner Jr.
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Frog footbridge

Our pool seemed to be doing well, if not great. It finally resigned itself to shaping up in late spring, in recent weeks even turning a characteristic shade of blue – characteristic of other people’s pools, not ours. No longer cloudy and filled with floating debris, one could occasionally glimpse the bottom.

I didn’t even have to fish deceased wildlife from the skimmers. For Father’s Day my thoughtful daughter Lucy bought me an inflatable frog log. Essentially an artificial lily pad, you blow it up and place it in the pool, by the side of the pool. The log, though it’s more of an island, connects to the mainland by a frog footbridge. I was highly skeptical that it would work. But since we installed it I haven’t had to perform last rites on a single amphibian.

Years ago I wrote a story for Cosmopolitan magazine about the wives of powerful men. If that sounds sexist you’re probably right. But it was Cosmo, after all, in the early 1980’s. The only one of my subjects that instantly comes to mind was Colleen Nunn, the spouse of then United States Senator Sam Nunn.

Senator Nunn has led a distinguished career, including after he left Congress in 1995 where he served as chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee. Since then he’s co-founded the Nuclear Threat Initiative. The non-profit works to avert catastrophic attacks by nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

But what most impressed me about Senator Nunn was his skill maintaining the family swimming pool. Mrs. Nunn confided that when her husband left Georgia for Washington each week he also left the pool in crystalline shape, the chemicals in perfect balance.

If only I were half that successful. My goal was to wean myself completely of our pool guy, having him show up in the spring to open the pool and return in the fall to close it. By the way, this is no normal rectangular pool. If only. Commissioned by my mother after her contractor sketched it on a napkin, the conceit was a pond one happened upon in the woods. She got her wish. The pool, which might be described as kidney shaped if one had aberrantly shaped kidneys, behaves more like a pond than a pool. It’s also twelve feet deep.

It seems always attempting to revert to its natural photosynthetic state, which it did overnight one day this week, turning from cerulean blue to forest green. I could almost hear it chuckle derisively as I panicked and poured in gallons of inflationarily priced liquid chlorine, phosphate remover and algaecide.

Our lawn, roughly the size of Central Park, is another source of friction between me and nature, to which it’s constantly threatening to return. The gentleman who mowed our lawn for many years quit, citing labor shortages. His replacement pulled out of the driveway one morning, in reverse, never to return after he saw how high the grass had grown since his last visit. A good neighbor took pity on us and is helping us cut it but that’s probably not a long-term solution.

What apparently is and is even becoming fashionable is letting the greensward return to the wild, perhaps tractor mowing it once a season while carving a mowed walking path through it. That’s a thought, except that we’re surrounded by deep woods. A mowed lawn feels a welcome respite, a civilized oasis amid the ticks and poison ivy.

But there may be light, diffuse though it is, at the end of the tunnel. A friend, David Emil, recently purchased an electric EGO riding mower. David has proved over the years to be on the cutting edge of consumerism. He informed us that Honda CR-Vs were on the way in the late 90’s and we’ve owned one ever since; ours was the second or third on the East Coast (we could have had the first but we didn’t want it in black.) So last week David and his wife Jennifer Crichton invited my wife Debbie and me over to test drive David’s new grass cutter.

It’s an impressive advance in lawn technology, able to mow several acres on a single charge. And, of course, it emits no climate harming fossil fuels. But it’s most important advantage is that, should I follow his lead since the thing ain’t cheap, it should pay for itself over time both financially and psychologically.

I think I can speak for more than myself – indeed for all those Americans I spot proudly sitting behind the wheel of their riding mowers, no matter their race, religion or political persuasion – when I say that there are few endeavors in life where on feels more fully in control of the situation, more master of his or her domain, more virtuous and all-powerful, the gap between them and the gods narrowing to within arm’s distance, than mowing one’s lawn to perfection.

That bracing sense of agency and independence would be magnified exponentially were I to become the proud owner of an EGO, able to mow around the house today, under the trees tomorrow. In a world where chaos and confusion reign that seems cause for rejoicing.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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