How I Rescued My Lawn Mower From Our Pond Without Anyone Noticing

A local man recalls the day some simple yard work caused a splash

I like to think of myself as a man of immense dignity even when the evidence strongly suggests otherwise. Exhibit A is probably the time I drove my little red riding mower into my pond.

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As the proud lord of all I survey (almost four acres in Red Hook), I enjoy the reverie of cutting the grass on my estate although I am wary about going too close to the pond. Tis always wiser (as I was reminded to my everlasting chagrin) to use a weed whacker to trim the tufts on the bank rather than risk calamity by having the mower slip off the edge and into the water. But that’s what happened when I tried to take down a particularly tempting clump of robust foliage.

Fortunately, the mower was facing the pond when it lurched forward, slid in mud and went in. Had I been going around the pond and toppled sideways, I would have been pinned under the machine and forced to scribble this gripping yarn from the Great Beyond.

The mower’s nose and front wheels were submerged in about a half-foot of water. I was, however, profoundly grateful for another stroke of good fortune: The pond is only knee-deep for the first five feet out before it gradually descends to a depth of 10 feet in the middle. But even though the mower is of modest size, it resisted my grunting attempts to pull it to safety.

Standing there, my sneakers and the legs of my jeans soaked from slipping into the muck, I saw no neighbors to ask for help, but with two teenaged sons at my disposal, this was clearly an all-hands-on-deck moment.

Just not in this family.

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My history of being mechanically challenged, and doing things like getting stranded on our garage roof while painting the cupola, are legendary; this latest mishap meant another chapter in the family annals was in the works, one I would never live down if it came to light. So I plotted a daring but discreet extraction: I would use our van to tow the mower out before anyone noticed.

Creeping into the house to get the keys, I was relieved to see my wife obliviously reading the newspaper in the living room. The kids were upstairs, the windows of their respective rooms facing away from the pond. So far, so good.

In the garage I pondered my limited towing options in lieu of a chain. A garden hose? An extension cord? String? My shoelaces? Would they be strong enough? Blessedly, I came upon some bungee cords, backed the van down the driveway and furtively drove across the lawn, leaving incriminating evidence in the form of tire ruts in the squishy grass. I reckoned if was asked about them I’d simply blame ’em on aliens, a variation on those mysterious crop circles you hear about from time to time.

Frantically hooking the bungees from the van’s roof rack to the mower’s rear leaf-bag support, I climbed behind the wheel of the van. While beseeching all available and interested deities, I managed to pull the dang thing out.

Chortling with relief, I returned the van to the driveway and cackled with glee when the mower started, none the worse for its nautical adventure. So, heading back to the house to return the keys, I was feeling pretty darned good… until I was met with gales of uproarious laughter from my family. They’d been watching the pathetic spectacle from the kitchen, cameras whirring and clicking. “And you thought you got away with it!” said my wife with grinning satisfaction.

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Sadly, this unfortunate incident went on my permanent record. It’s there for viewing, though I’m not eager to roll out the video. I do have my dignity, you know.

Related: More from John Rolfe

lawn mower in pond illustration by chris reed

Illustration by Chris Reed

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