“What’s that smoke?” “Oh, he’s started mowing.”

Where I live, irrigation is necessary to have lawns.  Call it wasteful if you will, but first know the realities:  our irrigation systems were primarily built to sustain agriculture, and by providing it to homeowners as well, the cost of that system is better supported.  Also, the Columbia is about half a mile wide near me, showing no signs of drying up any time soon.  Oh, and I have to pay $400 a year for it even if I don’t use it–‘water rights’ are associated with the property.  So, yes, we live in a desert, but not like the deserts of southern California, grotesquely overbuilt for the water supply and beseeching it from five states away to support breakneck sprawl.

Each year, this means some maintenance work for me.  In fall, I must shut off the main, and have the system blown out.  I pay a guy with an air compressor who does this every fall, enabling him to pay for a family vacation every year.  He’s willing, reasonably priced, pleasant and thorough.  If I do not do this, my entire underground piping system will be destroyed that winter.  Not ‘might.’  It will.  In spring, it’s time to turn the system on.  I don’t like mowing my very hilly obstacle course of a yard, so I’m in no hurry to do that.  It usually doesn’t happen until Mrs. Anderson comes to me (again) to ask me politely when I plan to turn them on, reminding me (again) that her raspberries are actually watered by my system, and won’t thrive unless I get moving.  I usually do.

That process involves turning on the main and running a test watering from the entire system, which is set out quite illogically.  It involves frequent drenchings at the very least, occasional slips and falls onto ass in wet grass, and often repair work.  If a whole valve is hosed, I call professionals.  If it’s just a broken sprinkler or riser (that’s the piece going from the pipe to the sprinkler), I get to dig in mud, use a special tool to extract any broken pieces of riser, put in a new sprinkler and correctly aim it, etc.  This was a good year, with only minor issues.  One year, I had five Old Faithfuls, in which the riser is completely broken off and water gushes 3′ in the air.  I learned about this when Bill, who has the misfortune to live downhill from me, came over and asked me quite courteously if I would see my way clear to do something about the water pouring down his driveway.

Once I do this, of course, I will soon need to mow.  Some years I sharpen the mower blade.  Most years I change the oil.  However, I am prone to overfill the oil.  My philosophy is that overfilling is not good, but a seized engine from lack of oil is rather worse.  This year, it seems, I went a little overboard even by my standards.  I learned this within about the first five minutes of my first mowing, when my mower horked up a very dense cloud of acrid white smoke.  This is not part of the usual plan.  The cloud’s thickness was quite impressive, like a mortar had thrown a smoke shell near me.  In some alarm, I turned the mower off, went in and did some research.  It seems that excess oil is vented into the exhaust pipe, so the oil had probably sloshed into there as soon as I had occasion to tilt the mower for any reason.  As soon as the pipe got hot enough, it started to cook off the oil.

Here is what’s amazing:  this happens nearly every time I change the oil, but by the time it does, I have forgotten the above explanation and must re-research this particular problem.  Why don’t I remember?

Maybe it’ll help if I blog it.  And if it doesn’t help me, people can at least smile in wry amusement that my neighbors can usually gauge my mower maintenance by the air pollution that results.

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