There are so many things to be outraged by, but I try to find some eventual, rational stance. Just don’t talk to me about your perfectly manicured lawn, with the little sign on it that says pets and children should stay off of it for the next 24 hours. Yes, my neighbor. I’m talking about you.
I like to stroll about my front and back yards in the morning. Morning dew makes my feet wet and cold. Rabbits dart by, startled by my intrusion on their breakfast nibbling. The catmint, heavy with condensation, is bent over into the sunlight, where a bumblebee buzzes its way through the task of collecting pollen.
A robin dive bombs my head, causing tea to slosh over the sides of the cup from which I’ve been leisurely sipping. The robin is on guard – its babies are on the ground, flapping their fledgling wings, trying for the holy grail of air time. I see at the edge of our eave, that a wasp is building a nest. We won’t disturb it – it’s out of the path of normal traffic and wasps eat or paralyze a lot of pest insects. They serve a purpose as well.
It’s an urban ecosystem that supports a great deal of life – from the small mammals to an astonishing range of birds. The Twin Cities is marvelous for its green spaces, although with urban sprawl, those green spaces are getting smaller and smaller. Deer and coyote are being spotted in places they’ve never been before. Their instinct for survival deems that they cross paths with humans and their manicured lawns.
Thus far, we’re the only lawn in the neighborhood that is more perennial plants than grass. We have been developing this garden for the last 8 or 9 years. It’s finally starting to fill in, but we did it the hard way – ripping up grass as we put in various beds. The easy (albeit expensive) way is to have a landscaping company come in a pull up the whole thing, to start with a blank slate. I’m a do-it-myself kind of person, though and doing it bit by bit suits my temperament.
I gave up the fight, long ago, to defend our plants and vegetables against the animals that reside in and visit our yard. We share. The racoons and squirrels eat themselves giddy on our Concord grape vines in the fall. The rabbits taste test everything, often settling on the clover and dandelions for a main course. Chipmunks, their cheeks expanded to hilarious proportions, collect stray birdseed from under the feeders.
If I sit still and listen, there is a constant buzz of life. I am cautious of the bees and wasps, but rarely afraid. I like to imagine that they understand I am the gardener. Bumblebees and honeybees and black potter wasps go about their business and I go about mine.
Perhaps it is the fact that I lived for many years without a yard that I wax rhapsodical over flora and fauna. I marvel that only a few minutes kneeling in the dirt centers and calms me. From where I see so much life, I look next door and see nothing, except a long span of green, evenly cut grass, aesthetically appealing, but ultimately uninteresting. And at what cost?
Lawns in the U.S. were initially established by the wealthy, seeking to mimic English gardens. In the 1950s, with the creation of suburbs, they became the standard. Most lawns contain a single species of plant, cutting down on biodiversity. Lawns require quite a bit of water to establish and maintain. 50-70% of residential water is used for landscaping, most of which is for lawns. And finally, pesticides and chemicals used to maintain lawns in this country outpace agriculture in their usage per acre.
A conservative estimate is that 67 million birds a year are killed by exposure to pesticides. A lot of practices have changed and many synthetic chemicals have been pulled from the market, but the damage is still staggeringly high. And then we get to the bees, about which Snoring Dog Studio just wrote. Recently, in Oregon, 25,000 bees died as a result of insecticide usage on trees around a Target parking lot.
Beyond the science, which is often disputed, I find the pathological need to maintain a rectangle or square of green grass to be kind of weird. I never see people sprawled out on their lawns, luxuriating in the field of monochrome green. It’s a sedentary approach to nature, something that is looked at out the front window. That somehow we are not part of it. This severe disconnect is a dangerous attitude to cultivate in a time of dwindling resources and steamrolling population growth.
On occasion, when I sit at my keyboard a mite too long or spend too much time on indoor activities, I feel that sense of disconnect. It all becomes “out there”. Then it’s time to become wild again, to enter a world that never noticed my absence, that does not acknowledge my presence as anything less than natural.
Reading for Nature Lovers:
- The Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
- Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
- The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons by John Wesley Powell
- Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
- Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez
- The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich
Reading for Gardeners: