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Indy Daryl of ‘Do Hard Things’ fame shares his mowing reflections and what TNML has meant to him in 2021

Ed. note: Indy Daryl first emailed me on May 27 to mention the “little slice of life” that he and his wife had in Carmel, IN. The Thursday Night Mowing League was in its infancy. Daryl was an unknown around here. Just another American trying to get through life, raise his kids, care for his community and hopefully leave things a little better than he found them.

Little did Daryl know that five months later he’d be emailing me 3,000 words reflecting on his life and the role that mowing has played along the way. Daryl has inspired multiple readers to find their very own ‘Do Hard Things’ motivation, including OutKick copy editor Cortney who will tell me when she’s slipping in the ‘Do Hard Things’ department.

Sit back and take a minute to read about Daryl’s journey and what this summer has meant to him. Enjoy.

Indy Daryl writes:

Good evening! With the end of the inaugural season of the Thursday Night Mowing League coming up, I wanted to respond to a tweet you sent out over a month ago. I know you sent it out as a joke, deploring the need and hubris to write excessively on a mundane college football game in which few people are invested.

Yet, it stuck with me. Could 3,000 words be spilled about mowing? Or more accurately, could I write 3,000 words about mowing? I wouldn’t say it has dominated my thoughts, but my relationship with mowing has been the subject of my thoughts ever since. This thought exercise has brought so many memories about my childhood to the forefront, most of them good and some of them less so.

It has been worthwhile and enjoyable to recall all the ways in which I have been shaped by taking care of, or lack thereof, a yard. It has been a defining aspect of my life, albeit in the background, even if up until this year I hadn’t treated it with much care. So, without further adieu, I present the 4 phases of Indy Daryl’s mowing life.

Indifference

As I expect for some people but certainly not all, growing up my dad took care of the lawn duties. While he didn’t mow on Thursdays, I do distinctly remember that Tuesday was the day he came home from work and set about mowing the lawn. It was a regular occurrence and we, my siblings and I, came to expect it. In terms of actual grass, The Blue House as we call it now, had a modest front yard and very little that needed mowing in the back yard. That being said, and which will become important later, the back yard still needed a lot of tending.

My dad always, and up until last year when he and mom moved into a condo and relinquished all mowing duties, bagged the grass clippings. Which meant as he taught me his ways, and as I learned to mow his grass, I too was required to dump all the clippings into a black trash bag. I must confess, I absolutely hated and still hate bagging grass clippings. I hate how you stop mowing, remove the bag and fumble awkwardly about trying to get the clippings into whatever receptacle is waiting. It’s cumbersome and probably doubles the amount of time spent mowing (scientifically proven). It ruins any flow of mowing. Yet, for most of my life this was required. Dad expected it. And so, I begrudgingly did it.

The Blue House wasn’t our first house, but it was the first house in which I learned about mowing and specifically how challenging it can be. Our back yard, as I mentioned, still needed a lot of tending. It was rather sloped, and since we had built the house, there was no sod. My grandpa and my dad had spent a couple of weekends at some point building out a wonderfully huge, two-tiered deck. But the rest remained unfished and full of weeds. My parents having a rather rambunctious 9-year-old at this point decided that they would pay me to mow the weeds below the deck.

The weeds were tall and in my memory the slope of the ground was at least 45 degrees! I know that isn’t true, but to a 9-year-old trying to push a lawn mower it sure was hard. I distinctly remember coming up with a saying, and at the risk of embarrassing myself I’ll say it here: I would proudly look my parents in the eye and say, “I am making money AND MUSLCE!” I am not sure I made much of either that summer.

Or that the mowing I completed outweighed the huge hole my buddies and I tried to dig (trust my 9 year old self, it was huge!) But I did learn that part of life is hard work. That there will be obstacles in our way that are worth attacking. I look back on that experience with such joy: delighting in my youthful exuberance and the desire to complete something, even though it seemed nearly impossible at the time. I am not sure how many times I mowed the hill. Or if I even completed it once.

Yet, it shaped me. It lingers there in my mind as cherished memory, bringing a smile to my face, and that’s not nothing.

DISGUST

We moved on from The Blue House and into the “country” we went. My parents were fortunate enough to be able to build a wonderful house on two acres of land outside the city where they spent the next 16 years of life. Middle school occurred (that’s all I’ll say about that subject). Highschool graduations came and went (there were 4). And through it all there was the yard.

At “The Ireland House” (street name) there were two very distinct areas of the yard: the sod and the rest. The sod was at least 3x larger than that of The Blue House. And the rest, well let’s just say there was a lot. In typical dad fashion the sod portions were still mowed with a push mower, and of course the clippings had to be bagged. Fortunately, having two acres we could dump them on the planned berm area instead of getting them into a black trash bag. While initially I rejoiced at this fact, it quickly became apparent that having 3x the area of grass meant even more trips to the pile. Yes, it only furthered my
hatred of bagging clippings while mowing.

As for the rest. We eventually shared the cost of a new riding lawn mower with a family down the street. It was this task that Dad would set before me and my siblings until we left the nest. It wouldn’t occur as often, certainly not every week. But there sure was a lot to mow. And over the years I would experiment with the best ways to cut. Do I go super slow to let the blades cut as much grass as possible on each pass?

Do I just crush the speed, knowing the spots would be missed, but go over everything multiple times? Is there a pattern that works best? Do I have enough batteries in my disc-man to listen to music the whole time? Which CD will I listen to? Over the next 7 or so years much of my summers and Saturdays would be defined by these questions.

What I find absolutely delightful is that those same questions are the ones that plague me now! My current backyard can grow like gang busters and I know if I don’t get to it weekly, it will be a beast to mow. However, when that situation inevitably arises, the question of speed versus pattern versus double mow is something I consider each time. And this year, as compared to years past, I have taken into consideration what am I listening to. Is this a music type of mow? Is it a podcast day?

Do I have enough batteries in my noise canceling headphones to make the entire mow? My mowing journey may have moved from Colorado to Indiana but thinking back through the years it is striking that so little has actually changed.

I titled this phase “disgust” because as a teenager I really did not want any part of mowing. I was angsty, rebellious, really didn’t want to be around my family much, and mowing meant I had to be at home.

Mowing was a constant reminder of what I didn’t want to be doing. Man, I was an idiot kid. I had no idea how good I had it. My parents loved me and were trying to instill a productive work ethic in me. An ethic that rose to challenges even though it may not be the thing I wanted in the moment. I must confess, the “Do Hard Things” attitude my parents eventually instilled wasn’t something I adopted right away. My parents persisted in ‘doing something hard,’ namely raising me, and I hope it has paid off. I am now a father of three myself and I hope I can persist in doing the hard thing of raising them right, just like my parents did for me.

Annoyance

Fast forward quite a few years. I am now married with one child, living in Indianapolis, and we just bought a house. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we bought our first house at the end of fall and we didn’t move in until February. The winter that year produced quite a bit of snow and we didn’t realize what we had in the back yard until everything started to thaw throughout spring. What we did find out was that the back yard was quite a mess. I know people plant vines for ground cover, but I really hate it.

As the snow melted, we discovered more and more vine throughout the yard (we also discovered dog poop; like an incredible amount of dog poop, but we knew that was coming from the previous owners). We eventually started pulling it up and were able to literally roll it up as we pulled it out. What we ended up with was a muddy, dirt yard that while looking better was only starting to present challenges to us.

The house we bought had been built in 1923 and, as you might imagine, had a lot of large trees surrounding most of the property. It was delightful and one of the many reasons we loved the house, but it caused issues when trying to grow grass in the shady back yard. I don’t think the “dense shade” premixed seed anticipated the amount of shade we had. That being said, it became a labor of love and started the smallest of sparks in me that having a nice, luscious yard wasn’t something that just happened, but needed tending and intentionality.

We developed a routine in which we (and I use ‘we’ in the royal sense) aerated and seeded every fall, while also laying down extra seed in the spring along with a ‘weed and feed’ mixture. Was it ever this amazing, immaculate lawn? Certainly not. But we could say we had grass in the backyard and as we did more to other parts of the yard, it was a great place and we truly enjoyed the space. We added to our family in that house and the yard accommodated a swing set (the same one we still have to this day) which our kids have played on to their little heart’s content.

My appreciation for how hard my dad worked to keep up the lawn deepened and sparked a desire, albeit a small one, to curate a lawn of my own. Did I truly view it as anything more than something I HAD to do? Not really. I wanted all the benefits of the lawn with minimal effort. To give a specific example of how little effort I put into the lawn, the entire time we lived at that house I didn’t buy a lawn mower!

I simply borrowed my neighbor’s. For Shame! Yet the spark was there and simply needed the right person to come along and fan the flame, but more on that later. The minimal effort mindset continued as we moved into our new, and now current house.

Unfortunately for me, the yard size grew exponentially. We went from about 1,000 square feet of yard to over 1/3 of an acre. While the yard was definitely a selling point for us, I was in for a rude awakening on the amount of yard work, specifically time spent mowing in my future.

As spring approached, I became a bit apprehensive as to what lay in wait for me. We diligently researched lawn mowers that were within our budget, knowing that we couldn’t afford the best. And finally, on one April morning I piled the kids into the car, drove to home depot and selected the mower and weed trimer/edger that would become my tool kit. Would I take care of the mower more than minimally? The jury is still out; but it has been four mowing seasons and things are still looking good.

That first mow feeling, how to describe it? There is something a little sublime about seeing your yard mowed for the first time. I remember it fondly. It was a delightfully warm April day and the kids were playing throughout either part of the yard I happened to be in at the time. We have a great climbing tree in the front and my 3-year-old son was just learning how to maneuver his ‘tractor’ to the base and really think about climbing to where his 8-year-old sister was. I remember thinking how crisp the lawn looked once I was finished mowing and trimming everything out. I had actually done it! It looked good! But I wasn’t ready for how often my lawn would require that amount of effort.

The next three years offered a picture of hope, exasperation, and desperation successively. Each year would start out with a desire to manicure the lawn and make it the best on the block. Such high hopes would inevitably fade quickly. Each year would bring exasperation with the amount of effort required to maintain the lawn. Each year brought with it a least one three week stretch where due to vacation or laziness the lawn wouldn’t get mowed. Thus, the end of each year brought about desperation to simply get work done. Joy faded and died throughout the year. It was sapped little by little and by the end of each year I came to resent the amount of lawn I had to care for. I wanted something different! This was too much! I can’t take it anymore!

Interestingly, as I think back on those three years, I see the lessons my dad instilled throughout my childhood gaining strength. Lessons about doing it right the first time. Lessons about taking care of the business that is in front of you and doing it well. Lessons about taking care of what is yours.

The yard became a microcosm of those lessons and how they were expressed. It became abundantly clear how much work and effort my dad had put into not only maintaining his own lawn but imparting his ‘lawn wisdom’ to me. Effort, hard work, intentionality, and desire were all things that the lawn required and actually deserved. Curating a lawn was as much about me as about the external viewing pleasure I and all my neighbors received.

Satisfaction

On the heals of 2020, I wasn’t sure what 2021 would hold. I had very specific views about COVID. Ones that I still believe are backed by science but certainly ‘seem’ to be in the minority. Regardless of all that was happening in society at large, I had a lawn in front of me that needed tending. Had I internalized all that my dad taught me? Maybe.

Was I willing to put in the work this year? More likely. Was there a spark that was just waiting for some igniter fluid? Absolutely! Enter OUTKICK. I started reading the website because of Clay Travis and Jason Whitlock’s perspective on COVID. Things I had been reading on websites like FEE.org and AIER.org for months (and continue to read on Brownstone.org) but didn’t seem to be gaining traction anywhere else.

Little did I know that my life would be transformed by the inauguration of the Thursday Night Mowing League. To be honest, I didn’t post that first week. I don’t do social media; I have been off Facebook for years, have tweeted only a handful of times and don’t do any of snapchat, Instagram, etc. I wondered about the implications of posting my house on the web. I knew that most people don’t have such reservations, but I wanted to be considerate of my family and the life we have built. After reading week one though, I was hooked. I wanted in! I wanted to love and cherish my lawn as much as those who posted that first week. I actually wanted to put in the effort, time and sweat that those who have been caring about their lawns longer than I have been alive seemed to. I wanted to show my kids how much I cared about the house we live in. To show them that keeping up a lawn required time and energy. In short, the lessons my dad had passed onto me, I wanted to pass on to them.

The Thursday Night Mowing League has provided gasoline to the flame already germinating inside me. I am sad when I don’t get to mow on league night. Rain on Thursdays is incredibly annoying, and I hate not participating in the ‘shared’ experience of mowing. The joy that used to fade by the end of June every summer has persisted. I want to mow my lawn every week!

Trying to share my lawn every week turned into sharing more and more about myself. Am I sharing everything? Definitely not. But sharing mottos like “Do Hard Things” seemed only natural after realizing that is what curating a lawn is. It requires diligent, consistent effort and isn’t easy. Maintaining a lawn week in and week out is as hard as climbing mountains or running most of Michigan. And yet, week in and week out I get to bask in clean lines, trimmed edges, a sweaty t-shirt, and cold beer; knowing that something good has taken place. I believe we are made to ‘keep-up’ the place we are in. It is hard, and I believe that’s why so many people fail to sustain it.

It is hard, yet if we persist there is beauty in what we do. I truly love seeing every post on the TMNL report each week, delighting in the beauty that is being created week in and week out. I love hearing about struggles members are dealing with, whether grubs, moles, or fungus. Not only do I need the advice, but I love reading about how people are persevering.

Our Insta-world wants us to think that beauty is an easy, quick win; something that should come effortlessly. TMNL members know differently. We know that with each report, that member has put effort, sweat, and dedication into his domain. We understand how hard it is to keep plugging away at a yard, week after week, month after month, and year after year.

This is what I have finally come to understand: a great yard, or more broadly a great life, isn’t great solely based upon how it looks. But rather it is beautiful because its owner has poured every available ounce of effort and sweat into it. Our lawns are expressions of how we treat life: full on, ready for challenges, knowing that they will come, and willing to endure because something beautiful is on the other side. Neither lawns nor life is easy yet, we will persist because beauty is worth striving after and something worth pursuing.

My lawn will probably never be perfect. But as I pour out my time and energy upon it, I can give my kids some of the most important lessons they will learn in their lives. Keeping up your place, desiring it to be beautiful, and setting your face towards that goal is utterly worthwhile.

So, thank you Joe Kinsey, and Outkick, for making an investment in a wild idea. A mowing league that I assume most thought would fold after the 3rd week. It has provided me an outlet; a way to engage my ability to ‘keep-my-place’ and give me insight into a world of mowing I didn’t know existed. And, I guess 3,000 words really can be spilled about the subject of mowing.

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Written by Joe Kinsey

I'm an Ohio guy, born in Dayton, who roots for Ohio State and can handle you guys destroying the Buckeyes, Urban Meyer and everything associated with Columbus.

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