Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Love Your Mother—Earth

Killing the lawn and other Earth-loving endeavors.

      I grew up in the 50’s in the suburban neighborhoods of the San Fernando Valley —North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Panorama City, Woodland Hills— where lawns were as ubiquitous as the tract homes they adorned, or the dog poop in the clover. Something like that.
      Anyway, the fact of lawns was not something I questioned as a kid, except to grumble when it was my turn to mow the grass—pushing and pulling our reluctant, rusty lawn mower over stubborn, overgrown clumps of grass was not something I wanted to do on a Saturday, and neither was scraping dog poop off the wheels. That lawns were everywhere, like clean air and plentiful water, made them invisible as issues, as concerns. We never gave it a thought; we played on our lawns, that’s all, trading cards, playing Simon Says, cowboys and Indians, or horsie, rearing, bucking, grazing green grass like real horses.
      Everything happened on the lawn: our male dog, Buck the Airdale, got stuck for an hour in my uncle’s female dog, Leesha the Boxer, while she investigated the lawn, nose in the grass, oblivious of her panting caboose, while I ran to the adults, sounding the alarm about Buck’s predicament, and while the adults worked hard at ignoring me; Buck —there’s so much Bucklore— raised his leg behind my girlfriend’s clueless brother and took a piss on his pants (now a real-estate attorney), while we sat in the grass and giggled; I smoked a cigar I found there, a cigar my step-father had lost during one of his meandering, upside-down treks across the lawn on his hands, and I smoked it until nausea put a stop to my smoking days, once and for all.
      Still, as I remember one neighborhood in Van Nuys, our lawns were never kid heaven, compared to the vacant lot down the street. Well, it wasn’t really vacant; in fact it was overgrown with tall trees, bushes, and, best of all, hip-high (on a kid) grass, which we yanked up and out of the ground for our dirt-clod wars and for weaving into the sides and tops of our forts, for privacy. Of course, this was before home-owner associations, when nobody cared if there was a neglected plot in the neighborhood; it was also before the current days of paranoia, TV addiction and video games, when children could disappear for hours and nobody worried, when children actually played outside. (In my neighborhood now, I rarely see children playing outside, though children do live here.) It was the vacant lot, with its nooks and crannies, paths, jungle terrain, forts and faraway feeling that did the trick, allowing for stories to emerge—plot, character, adventure, places for childhood imagination, where all things were possible.
      The point is this: children and other living things do not need lawns.

      Now, here comes today. The air is unclean; water is now a finite, contaminated resource. Gasoline is finite too, as it is dirty, as we have come to understand; we are shocked, and some are ruined, by the price of gasoline. We buy our produce from super markets, or small, family-owned markets, or even local farmer’s markets, but many of us haven’t tasted a real, home-grown tomato in years, if ever; we are shocked at the price of organic produce. But lawns are as ubiquitous as ever, regardless—no matter the upkeep, no matter they require an egregious amount of water, gasoline to run power mowers, Round-up to kill the weeds and other unwanted things like birds, insects and human beings (cancer), fertilizers, so the green grass can grow all around, all around, so the green grass can grow all around. No matter that this miraculous soil is capable of growing everything, but it is allowed to grow only one thing—grass.

      I am certainly not the first to write about this. Far better thinkers than I have discussed how we are going to have to change to love our mother, Earth (links, below); but many of us are doing what we can for the sake of the environment: minds are changing, and habits are changing; some of us, those who can afford it, are going cold turkey, ending bad habits and “going green” in various ways; others are moving incrementally, while some still drag their feet, in denial but finding less and less support for such folly.
      As for me, I try, though I cannot afford to put solar panels on the roof or buy a hybrid car, and I haven’t much room on my little lot for growing vegetables. I do have two large pine trees —oxygen makers, carbon holders— and a variety of plants, mostly overgrown, a garden with indigenous plants, succulents, ice plant—but, no lawn. Some might say my pond is a problem, that is, running a pump constantly; I say I make up for it, not driving much and planning my errands and visits with conservation in mind, being a vegetarian, and recycling practically everything, etc.
      Lucky for me, my son and daughter-in-law in Normal Heights (we call them “the Normals”) in San Diego County, have decided to kill their lawn. Well, decided might be the wrong word. They have toddlers, and keeping the lawn watered was not a priority in the past few years; let’s put it that way. Let’s say the lawn died a slow, natural death, and the soil is in the process of returning to its original state, as you can see. But, the beautiful part is that they have decided to turn their substantial yard into a vegetable garden, not one with rows and regimented sections, like Puritans, but one with meandering paths and “rooms,” one with an organic design and shape, and one where there will also be space for the children to play.
      I say “lucky for me,” because, you know, they’ll probably produce more than they can eat, and that’s where I’ll step in...but then, they’ll probably have more work to do too, more than they can possibly manage, and, no doubt, that’s also where I’ll have to step in, which is fine by me, since I won’t have to mow the lawn.

      Happy Mother’s day.


Edible Gardening
Edible Estate
Michael Pollan

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