the billy goat and the leaf blower

While the initial concept may have been simple, the design and logistics of the shadow mowing pushed its execution back to the edges of the growing season. Fortuitously, this allowed for a more substantial difference in meadow height, making the relatively subtle act more visible — and easier to execute. Mowing the transects and sample plots with a small, rotary mower was easy enough, but to the tool was too small for the scale of Middle Field and did not mow high enough to avoid damaging flowering perennials or warm season grasses as their stamina dwindled.

courtesy of central virginia rentals

courtesy of central virginia rentals

The quest for a riding mower proved to be quixotic, and so I accepted the constraints of the local equipment rental, opting for the next best thing: a self-propelled, walk-hind, “Billy Goat,” high-weed mower. Mowing an even three inches high, it’s turning radius was surprisingly worse than most riding mowers, especially when traversing downhill. The nuances of the tool path were instantly abandoned, yet an interesting teardrop form emerged around as we looped around the back of obstacles and merged in front to cut the shaded zone. As the shadows stretched into the higher grass (>10”), stretching the definition of the shadowed zone as understood through sampling, the tool path became dominant and recognizable from a distance, although this effect would presumably dwindle if following the 2/3 height rule of good lawn care.

While inspiring, the figure of the shadows must adapt to the economy of maintenance, with a more flexible mowing path better reflecting the ecological gradient of light

While inspiring, the figure of the shadows must adapt to the economy of maintenance, with a more flexible mowing path better reflecting the ecological gradient of light

The experiment reinforced the necessity of identifying and fully understanding the agency of the specific tool operations while also realizing the tolerances of a maintenance design following a substitution. Also clear was that the original formal concept needed to be drastically simplified to match the economy of mowing which is principally linear. While the dynamics of shadow which can be mapped as events, these plans are difficult to execute in the field. Current shadows act as magnets, irresistible to the mower, opening the door to a more flexible maintenance design, perhaps with parametric representation.

"returning the favor" to the trees where the leaves are already collecting in wind eddies

“returning the favor” to the trees where the leaves are already collecting in wind eddies, with the novelty of windswept grass

As the leaf season was now upon us as well, I took the liberty of honoring schedule over design, experimenting in the “let’s just see what the tool wants to do” type of observation.  My hypothesis that a walk behind leaf blower would be appropriate for the scale of Middle Field was unfortunately dashed by the realities of slope.  My makeshift rule of always blowing to the left of the shaded mow zone instantly became self-indulgent.  Stepping back, I identified where wind eddies were already collecting leaves as the condition to be maintained and then concentrated them into mounds around trees or in hedges along the forest edge (to pay them back their kind favor).  Novel to this action was the effect on the grass, windswept in the direction of the blower and recalling earlier methods of  “rolling” the lawn flat.  The juxtaposition of this technique with the lines created by the tool path are perhaps the clearest illustration so far of the formal potential of tool logic.

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