“The average lawn is an interesting beast: people plant it, then douse it with artificial fertilizers and dangerous pesticides to make it grow and to keep it uniform – all so that they can hack and mow what they encouraged to grow. And woe to the small yellow flower that rears its head!”
― Michael Braungart
I have a love-hate relationship with lawns that started back when I was ten, when my father decided I was old enough (or big enough) to take over the once-a-week task that he wasn’t overly fond of – mowing our yard.
Until the age of ten, he and his family lived in the District (as natives refer to it, as in Washington, the District of Columbia) in a series of homes in the 20/30’s that were like any other urban city’s of the day (and even today), with front door steps going straight down to the sidewalk along the street, until the family inherited property and a house in suburban Virginia that included, naturally, a lawn. He was the one delegated to cut it as his father worked seven days a-week during the Depression (four days in his usual job as a fireman, three days as a police officer, both in the District) and his two brothers were too young and small for the manual push-mower. But that lasted only two short summers until his dad died and he had to help augment the family income with an after-school job (the mowing fell to the younger brothers).
After he married, they living in an apartment, and when I and my oldest younger sister came along, he (probably at my mother’s insistence, I’ll wager) bought a home in the suburbs and he, again, had a lawn to cut. I guess, when I turned ten, he felt if he did it at that age then so could I. Thankfully, by then, he’d traded in the old manual push-mower for a nice walk-behind gasoline-powered one.
That’s where the hate part began. I didn’t develop the love part until three years later, when one of his brothers moved to England on a long term job assignment and invited me to come and stay a spell with him – dad said I could go if I earned my own airfare and he’d match it as spending money. And at some $500 each, it was a deal and I humped my butt that summer before, cutting every yard in the neighborhood I could contract for, weekly. Unfortunately, once again back home, even though I never renewed servicing neighbor lawns, ours was back on schedule, and my hate of it returned.
I had a respite when I finally left for college, then moved to California and apartment living, even after marriage. It wasn’t until our two sons were of the age that it was decided we needed a house, and the hated job of lawn mowing came with it. It wasn’t until my oldest turned ten that I decided it was his turn to take over (even now, almost forty, a life-long apartment dweller, is he thinking of buying a house – naturally, with a yard, but with three boys – two more than capable of handling a mower – I don’t think he’s worried about having to do it for at least the next ten years).
Of course, once both of my boys grew up and moved out, the onerous task fell back on me and, now after all those years since and now at seventy, I’m about ready to fork-out money to pay someone else to do it. Which I’d prefer not to do (I can still handle the job) but it’s taking me twice as long as it use to, and there comes a point where my time and lessening energy reserves are worth more than my money.
And as I now look out my front window and realize it’s time to mow yet again, it has led me to thinking about lawns, in general. I mean, why? Why do we bother to have them at all?
Think about the quote above.
Lawns are kinda stupid, if you think about it – the time, effort, expense (gasoline or electricity, pesticides, fertilizers, mulch and whatnot). And the water (something in serious, and I mean dire, shortage of here in the drought-stricken Southwest).
Sure, I love a well landscaped, maintained green expanse; it looks beautiful. And green space is vitally important to the environment and climate. (I’d rather see and enjoy it with more city parks or on the golf course, where someone else has to maintain it, even with taxes and greens fees.)
But I hate everything it takes to maintain a nice, green lawn; the effort and time, of course, but it’s especially the pesticides and fertilizers, which are by definition poisonous, which leech into the underground water supply we drink from (and I’m not convinced any municipal water service can completely remove all of them), that I object to (which is why I don’t use them, as my lawn’s look will attest to). But, more importantly, some seventy percent of all water use in suburban homes is used outdoors on lawns and gardens. And water costs money, payable monthly to the city.
No wonder so many who can afford it are having their yards ripped out and installing xeriscaping, while the many that can’t merely allow their yards to die and go yellow.
Gives a whole new meaning to California being called the “Golden State”.