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The Edge of the Wood: Taking Inventory

ve learned to talk nice to our lawn mower. My spouse tells me if I am friendly to the machine, it will work better, or at least longer. It makes sense, sort of.

The thing is, I’m not a lawn-mowing kind of guy. Grass has been growing and dying and growing back for a very long time, with no human help necessary.

Messeder squirrel

Lord over all he surveys

In the world, according to Sam Emery, every time we mow a lawn, some Arabian princess strings another bauble on her charm bracelet. I do it, though, because I love the person who thinks it needs to be done, and sometimes she can’t do it.

I plant low-maintenance gardens: scatter some seeds and see what grows.

A friend I love, and respect in more or less equal amounts once commented about her confusion at being a country girl with city tendencies. Her comment set me thinking about the contrasts in my life history: I was born in one of the world’s largest cities, raised among thousands of acres of trees and a few moose, and now reside in Middle Earth among not enough trees and too many paved roads woven among fields of corn, soy, and Herefords.

I like living in the country. I enjoy cows in the field and loons on the lake. I’ve pitched hay and milked cows and goats and run naked (even if only symbolically) in the rain through fields of buttercups and dandelions.

I enjoy dinner cruises on the Potomac and the Seine, musical performances at Wolf Trap, the Fulton, and the Majestic; first-run movies at the local Cineplex; an occasional visit to the Smithsonian Institution or the Baltimore aquarium; and a week in Paris or Barcelona.

I read books that have taken me around the globe and into my past and future and taught me how to fly airplanes and drift a sports car sideways through a corner, and I have talked to people in other nations with a radio I built with my own hands.

I have learned of Single-malt whiskey from my father, Jack Daniels from a shipmate, and Amontillado from Edgar Allen Poe.

And I’ve learned through living with them that Germans and Italians and African-Americans and Chinese and a host of other people different than I are mostly good people, though sometimes their leaders, and mine, are less praiseworthy. We wear different clothes and speak different variations of different languages, and crave equally to end our daily toil with a decent meal and someone warm and friendly with whom to enjoy it.

I have ridden my bicycle on day-long trips away from home without a cell phone in my pocket or a GPS on the handlebar, both of which now accompany me nearly everywhere I go.

I have lived most of my life with a small knife in my pocket, useful for opening packages, trimming fingernails and myriad other meaningless chores, and now I can’t take it into a courthouse or on an airplane.

And I climb into my car and fasten my seatbelt, and my right hand immediately goes to the ignition. Then I remember I don’t live in the country anymore, and I pull my hand away, fish my keys from a pocket, and start the car.

I’ve spent most of my adult life as a journalist, observing people — what they do, and why — and though I occasionally comment on their, and my, foibles, I’ve learned it’s not what we do it with that counts, but what we do with it, whatever “it” is.

©2023 John Messeder. John is an award-winning environmental storyteller, nemophilist and social anthropologist, and lives in Gettysburg, PA. He may be contacted at

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John Messeder is a freelance reporter and photographer who resides in Cumberland Township. He may be contacted at

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Bill Serfass
Bill Serfass
9 months ago

Nailed “it”. Thanks again for your astute observations! I enjoy reading about them.

John Messeder, Jr.
John Messeder, Jr.
9 months ago
Reply to  Bill Serfass

Thank you, sir.

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