There was a time when my gender proved our masculinity by killing mastodons and saber-toothed tigers. Now we are reduced to mowing lawns. What a spectacular come-down, from running full tilt with a stone-tipped spear, to making tight turns around the forsythia. But we perservere, my downtrodden suburban brethren and I, by turning lawnmowing into a complex technical challenge, a weekly male ritual, and a fine art. First we must start the cranky gas lawnmower, by numerous manly pulls on the starter rope, then we spend some quality time fiddling with the spark plug, and finally we make a quick trip to the gas station when we realize the tank is bone dry. After those ritual preparations comes the most satisfying part, as we mow down quackgrass, dandelions and lost toys while completely enveloped in a dense cloud of exhaust. Then, at the very end of the performance, comes the rewarding sense of a job well done-the lush smoothness of what previously looked like an abandoned cow pasture. Even though they will come back overnight, for the entire rest of the day not one single dandelion will be visible.

Not quite the same as slaying mastodons, but it does keep our killer instincts within the limits of suburban etiquette.

I don’t own a riding lawnmower, but they do look like a lot of fun (think of chasing mastodons on an ATV). However, for an oversized guy like me, I might look pretty ridiculous on one, sort of like the guys on miniature motorcycles at the Shriner parades.

I’m supposed to be an environmentalist, so my gas lawnmower is definitely suspect. My solution was to use it rarely, and when I did, I pushed it along at a fast trot, thereby drastically reducing my carbon footprint. But then I discovered that the old-fashioned manual reel mowers have been updated and are back on the market. So I bought one, from a well-known Canadian tool company, and it immediately transported me right back to the 1950’s-that unmistakable scissoring sound as the reel blades make contact with the cutter bar. Plus the endlessly satisfying finish of a vigorous push stroke, when you stop the mower but the reel keeps on freewheeling. More so if it has been lubricated in the past five years.

I don’t jog with my new Canadian-made manual reel mower, but it does give me a good full-body workout. And I have discovered the joy of mowing barefoot, something I would never do with the old gas hog. Now when I mow, the bottoms of my feet are in intimate contact with freshly cut lawn, and my ankles are continuously showered by a gentle rain of grass clippings. It’s sort of like a soothing New Age chlorophyll foot massage, but I digress. I was talking about killing mastodons.

I have a Very Important Theory about lawns. The reason why we are so fanatically attached to them is privilege: lawns harken back to the days of the grand manors and estates of Victorian England. The vast manicured grounds around the manor was a way for the owner to say to the world: “look, I own this land and I’m so wealthy I don’t have to grow potatoes or raise pigs on it. I can use up valuable farmland just for ornamentation, and get nothing from it! So envy me!”

Unfortunately no landscape scholars have accepted my Theory, which really annoys me. Maybe I’ll go out and kill a mastodon. Or perhaps plant potatoes in my front yard.