Friday, July 18, 2008

Two quotes

Two patches of former lawn. Now the back is jungle and the front is pretty bare, but I'm happily working toward that happy medium. Plus, I have artichokes, chard, blueberries, and more, along with the flowers.
Here are two quotes I've run across recently:
"Life is animated water."
Wendy Johnson, Gardening at the Dragon's Gate

"Lawns are nature purged of sex and death. No wonder Americans like them so much."
Michael Pollan, "Why Mow"

The first one reminds me of one of my favorites lines from a favorite obscure book, The Family Cow, by Dirk Van Loon. If you ever find yourself with a personal milk cow, this is the book you want. In the meantime, this wisdom, possibly slightly misquoted from memory: "A cow is nature's way of moving water from one place to another." Anyone who has hauled water for cows, or mucked out a barn, knows whereof he speaks.

The second was quoted in a New Yorker (July 21, 08) review of books on the history and culture of suburban lawns. (This is also the issue with the notorious Barack and Michelle Obama cover illustration.) Reading through the article, I came to think that Pollan's quote is actually less true than it should be. Pollan was referring to the fact that mowing keeps lawn grass in a perpetual state of immaturity. It is never allowed to flower, set seed, and die. What dies instead, all too often, is the other life in and around the grass. Herbicides, pesticides, over-fertilization, and the massive quantities of water diverted from more essential uses to keep lawns green--all these add up to death, if not sex, on a massive scale.

Even more than the environmental checklist, however, I was struck by the cultural assumptions that have built up around lawns. A couple more quotes give the flavor: "A fine carpet of green grass stamps the inhabitants as good neighbors, as desirable citizens," wrote the founder of Levittown, one of the first suburban developments.

"The appearance of a lawn bespeaks the personal values of the resident. Some feel that a person who keeps the lawn perfectly clipped is a person who can be trusted."
The Lawn Institute

So what does my lawn say about my personal values?

Since my front yard and side yards are too bumpy with tree roots for an attractive lawn anyway, the decision to dig them up was easy, and my neighborhood--unlike many--is more than tolerant about that kind of thing. If neighbors think my blueberry bushes, peach tree, artemisia, euphorbias, lavender, creeping thyme, and pots of chard are signs of my untrustworthy nature, they haven't said so. Although antilawn enthusiasts often gloss over this aspect, it is way more work than grass would be. Perhaps that will change when it is better established--this is only the second year for most of it, and I am still rehabbing the soil as well as finding cheap plants--but I have my doubts.

In the back I still have a patch of lawn. It gets watered when my grandbaby is there playing with the hose. It gets mowed with a non-power mower every week or two. It is big enough for a table and chairs, plus room to lie on the grass and read, or watch bugs navigate their own version of the urban jungle. I like it and I wouldn't want to give it up.


Seven Trees said...

Excellent post!

We have a milk cow, and yes, it's all about moving water from place to place. But it's so worth it to interject ourselves into that cycle. Not only for the milk, meat and manure, but for the link with our ancestral way of life.

As for lawns, I can't wait for the day when we have none. In the meantime, we keep chipping away at it with edible plantings, and now we let the pony graze some too. There are no words to describe the joy of looking out the front door and seeing a happy pony munching away at dandelions and grass.

Lanester said...

I love the image of the pony in the grass. When I was a kid we used tether my horse in the back yard. Some mornings we would have breakfast together. A spoonful of Cheerios for me, a handful for him.

When we moved to Sumas we let the milk cow graze in part of the yard. That's a messier proposition, though, and we didn't keep it up once we decided we wanted to be able to play croquet. But I did learn that few occupations are more relaxing than using your cow as a backrest while you both ruminate on a sunny day.