It is a gorgeous late evening as my wife and I return home from a dinner celebrating 10 years since our first date; I’d venture to say it is the first perfect evening all spring. The low sun casts that warm summer glow reminiscent of firesides in winter, the air is clear and soothing, trees and shrubs are just now flowering. Entering our neighborhood every garage door is open like a mouth agape, a long waking yawn or a scream of joy. Fathers play catch with their young boys arcing balls over the street, others race small bikes with training wheels, parents cluster in groups with arms folded in satisfaction at the bucolic vista.
And every other yard has a lawnmower roaring up and down, side to side. Two men wear ear protectors I’ve only seen construction workers use with jackhammers. Mr. Mows All the Time, who lives across the street from me, is gliding around his front yard for the third time in a week, and the lawn next door is bog-like from the daily watering of an underground sprinkler system. Everyone this night is enjoying the weather, enjoying it by destroying it.
Maintaining a lawn is like maintaining a big cornfield — that’s what Home Depot and Scotts want you to think. They subtly play into the ideal that your quarter acre lot at the city’s edge is really your 160 acre homestead, that your property is something to prove up. But you have to MAINTAIN it (for the record, in one hard day of work my 2000′ native plant garden is set for 12 months). My one neighbor sweats like a hog every time he mows and looks, after an hour, like he’s about to have a heart attack. What joy mowing the lawn is! Huzzah to the green carpet that you fertilize when the commercials come on the air to tell you when! Work it! Work it! Work it! The same machine we feed that poisons our food supply poisons us in yet another way.
A lawn is a desert. A lawn slathered in petrochemicals is a Superfund site in the making with a drug-addicted soil that needs more more more juice. Turn on the sprinklers and wash that stuff into our streams and lakes, help the Mississippi dead zone grow. As the fertilizer sits on the lawn it releases greenhouse gases. Lawnmower exhaust restricts blood flow leading to hypertension, fosters lung disease, creates hearing loss, makes a person impotent. The only time I see my neighbors outside is when they’re mowing — at least if they picnicked, or suntanned, or made love on the lawn it’d get some use, I’d see some purpose.
I’m not wholly against lawns. Well, yes I am. It’s the whole system designed to maintain it that I abhor, and the non regional idea that lawn works out here in the prairie (did Lewis and Clark see Native Americans maintaining tall fescue?).
It was Michael Pollen’s father who, after neighbors pressured him to finally mow his lawn, wheeled out a mower that barely started and simply carved his initials into the lawn, never to mow again. Per acre, American lawns use four times as much pesticide as agriculture — and you know how much agriculture uses now that GMO crops can take more pesticides. American lawns use 50% of our fresh water. American lawns kill the planet. Lawn, as it is now, is murder as we lose thousands of animal, plant, and insect species each year due to habitat loss from farming, new roads, chemical overuse…. American lawns are killing our families through artificial chemicals that can increase the risk of cancer, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, and lead to early puberty.
I haven’t mowed yet this year, whereas my neighborhood has been at it for over a month — even right after a morning snowfall melted. My soil-enriching dandelions are doing fine, and if it wasn’t for my city’s 12 inch “weed” ordinance, I’d have a short grass prairie on my 1,000 square foot front side that would be a drought tolerant, soil amending, pollinator nirvana. Watching a man spraying something on his lawn as kids next door run barefoot makes me stare long and hard at the tiller in my garage. Do you want to come over and help me change the world?
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