Sometimes it takes a well-meaning Yankee to put me in my place. One who will remind me that all things Southern are, by no means, universal. That some things need to be explained.
Like bush hogging.
Now, where I come from – the rural South – the term “bush hogging” is plopped down comfortably in the middle of our everyday language and is used as commonly as “eating” “sleeping” or “breathing.”
To the rural Southerner who is blessed enough to have more than a couple of acres on which to reside, bush hogging is as necessary as eating, sleeping or breathing.
At a speaking event on the Georgia coast, I had told a bush hogging story to the delight of most of the audience who howled with laughter. But there in the midst of those who understood completely was one who did not understand at all. Later, the cute, pixie-like, blonde Manhattanite emailed me and asked, “What is bush hogging?”
Simply put, it is the South’s top weapon to use against the arch-enemy kudzu. Of course, I probably need to explain kudzu, too: It is an insidious green plant that covers over a million acres of Southern soil. Scientists have never found a way to successfully destroy kudzu. It can grow as fast as a foot a day.
That’s why we need bush hogging.
In elementary terms, a bush hog is a giant, fierce lawn mower. A rotary cutter that can chew up kudzu, devour thistle, annihilate blackberry bushes and make other small bushes a distant memory.
It is named after the Selma, Ala., company that was first to market with what became a farmer’s best friend: a rotary cutter “that ate bushes like a hog.” It is not to be used by a man or woman who is faint of heart. It is not a wimpy pursuit of foolishness.
In the South, some determine their worth as men by the size of their tractors and the bush hogs they possess. Some even take up bush hogging as a hobby like citified men take up golfing.
Jeff Foxworthy, for one, is an avid bush hogger. He gave up golfing years ago but he cannot resist the allure of a good day spent on a bush hog.
“Man, I love it,” he says often. “I just go to the farm, get on the tractor and bush hog all day. I do some of my best writing and thinking while I’m bush hogging.”
Gregg, his wife, is sometimes puzzled. “Why don’t you feel that same way about mowing the lawn?”
“Because bush hogging is a man’s game.”
In Hollywood – where I am sure they, too, never heard of bush hogging – Fox television executives tell the story of calling Foxworthy on his cell phone with the intent of convincing him that he should host a new television show that tested the knowledge of fifth graders against adults.
Foxworthy was too busy to talk show business. “I’m bush hogging,” he told the British producer. “I’ll have to call you back later.”
See, I told you that bush hogging is important in the South.
Of course, to be completely honest, the kind of tractor and bush hog that full-time farmers use is a long way advanced from what my daddy used. These days, serious bush hoggers work in enclosed cabs with CD players, air conditioning, satellite radios, GPS and fancy seats at the cost of $100,000 or more.
Oh, but I remember well the days when Daddy, arms always dark brown from a farmer’s tan, would finish a sweaty, hard day’s bush hogging covered with deep, bloody scratches from massacred thorn bushes, purple stains from pokeberries and the worse: yellow jacket stings from the angry, displaced insects.
Those pioneer farmers like my daddy blazed the thorny trails for today’s generation of bush hoggers.
Back in those days, it really was a man’s game.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Flirting” and “The Town That Came A-Courtin’.” Her newest book is “What Southern Women Know about Faith.” She lives near Gainesville, Ga. Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com.]