Recently I had an encounter with lawn mowers that I suspect was faery-rigged and designed to give me the willies about how incompetent I am in both the natural and technological worlds.
Last summer when our lawn mower finally bit the dust (an apt way to put it), I learned from a repairman that it would cost more to try to fix it than buy a new one. So I bit the dust, I mean bullet, and bought a new one. Small, light-weight — and cheap, since I was planning ahead to when it too would be useless and I’d need another new one. It lasted one summer, and went kaput this month. So I bought another which I proceeded to ruin in its first run by mowing over a rock, both bending the blade beyond repair and slicing up the safety guard. So, screaming and shouting, I bought yet another.
All this occured in July as I was preparing mentally for the Feast of Lugh Samildanach — the Irish term meaning “having all skills at the same time,” or the Many-Skilled, or in Buddhist terms, the hero of skillfull means. This is the Celtic character who has come down to us in the Appalachian “Jack tales” as a scamp, rogue, trickster, escape artist, manipulator, and one of those lucky guys who always comes out of scrapes smelling like a rose. Sometimes we call him “Jack of All Trades” — samildanach. I like the word. But as I was being defeated at every turn by some Fomorian lawn-mower demon, I felt anything but samildanach. And keep in mind, this is about cutting grass, something I’ve done, and done well, since I was eleven. Even got paid for it when I was younger and keener at it. Also when mowers did not have gas motors, or safety guards. Perhaps I was more of a scamp then, but I never felt defeated in mowing a lawn.
When I finally recovered from the rather foul mood this put me in, I got to thinking about how incompetent I — and maybe many others — are in our modern world. We do many things, but with technology that is beyond our understanding, or our ability to fix with a pair of pliers and wet gum. I wonder if teenage boys can still fix up an old, used car (what we used to call a jalopy) when so many automobile parts are now ruled by computer chips. (Come to think of it, with the automobile inspection laws, there are no more jalopies.) If the computer I’m writing this on decides to wig out, I’m done for. I will have to call our computer tech, who I suspect is not as old as he presents himself, but is in fact a teenage boy monkeying with computers instead of jalopies.
In his excellent book The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, Robert Louv tells about the answer given by a seven-year-old boy to the question of whether he would rather play indoors or outdoors. “Indoors,” he replied, “there are no electrical outlets outdoors.” Play means plugging something in to play with. Work also means plugging something in to play with.
I am constantly amazed at how younger folks are adepts at the technology that our world needs. And dismayed at how I am falling behind in it. I am quickly losing all hope of ever being samildanach, — and if truth be told, not remaining even very danach! Some days I wake up thinking I don’t have even one dan.
Yes, we are proficient in what we can do today — but “doing” means using technology that I can’t help but think separates us from the “real work,” that is, what is actually being done. Furthermore, as Louv’s young informant informed him, we must do our work indoors where the electrical outlets are. So in an odd way, we are manipulating the natural world more than ever with machines that separate us from that natural world. We drink milk “milked” from cows by milking machines.
So where does this put me in the season of Lugh, late summer, the first harvest, the start of August, the crazy, hazy, lazy days that are fast growing shorter and fewer?
To be honest I am hoping this old Irish god can give me some skill — any skill — that will boost my sense of competence, both in the high-tech world and the natural world. Especially in the natural world even if it is only cutting grass. For it is the natural world that stimulates a shaman to be active. Our worldview is of ourselves and our people interconnected with Nature and being an integral part of Nature, not just observers of it, and not from the end of an electrical cord. Even though we must live in the world of computers, finely-tuned automobiles, runaway lawn mowers, and discontented cows, we must try to be followers of Lugh. Good at, well, if not everything, at least the important things.
Now the question is: What are the important things? Are they indoors or outdoors? And do we need safety guards?