Saturday, April 03, 2004

Return of the yard
Last year, about this time of year, I wrote one of my favorite posts. I was especially proud of it because it was one of my very first posts to get linked. In honor of mowing my lawn today, I’m reposting my greatest hit in its entirety:

My yard – 3/29/03, 2:26 pm
This week the yard season began at my house with the traditional harvesting of the crabgrass. My yard is about fifty percent crabgrass, with the rest being made up of a mixture of moss, dandelions, California poppies, little tiny white flowers, clover, and a small amount of actual lawn grass. Because I live in the Pacific Northwest, with warm rainy winters, the crabgrass begins growing each year sometime around the winter solstice. By March I'm the bad neighbor whose yard is so overgrown that the house looks abandoned. Late February is the beginning of the race between the lawn and the weather to see if I can get a few consecutive clear days that will dry the lawn out enough for me to give it its first cutting.

This year I lost. With the crabgrass nearing knee-deep I had to go rent a manly gas powered weed whacker. Normally, I consider two-stoke engines to be the devil's spawn: loud, smelly, unnecessary monsters. I passionately hate leaf blowers, snowmobiles, recreational ATVs, and jet skis. And yet I rather enjoyed it. Sometimes, loud sweaty activity is the healthiest thing there is. Within minutes, I had lost my embarrassment and was attacking each shaggy patch with a cathartic battle cry: "Arrgh! Cheney! Rumsfeld! Wolfowitz! Ash-friggen-croft!!" Singly and in groups the despoilers of American values went down before me, spraying my ankles with their green viscera. Then I cleaned the whacker, refilled its gas tank, and returned it on time.

Now comes phase two. With the top of the crabgrass bludgeoned down to a reasonable level I can get the mower out and act like the genteel suburbanite that I vaguely resemble. I have an electric mower and I love it dearly. I'm always surprised at how well it works. On the face of it, I can't think of anything that cries "bad idea" more than an electric mower. "Hmmm. Fast spinning metal blades. Wet grass. How can we make this more challenging? I know, a fifty foot electric cord!" And yet it works. In all my years using it, I have not cut the cord any more than I have with any other power tool.

I am, what a friend once generously called, tool-challenged. I'm uncoordinated, nearsighted, and absent minded. I have long hair and several rings that won't come off. Most home improvement projects end in bloodshed or back injuries. Hardware store people recognize me and speak very slowly and use short words when explaining how to do things. Sometimes, I think the tool-challenged should organize to demand greater respect. I think we could make signs and have a protest. Then I realize that that many of the tool-challenged trying to make signs would result in someone taking their eye out. I can't have that on my conscience.

Postscript 2004 - I won the race this year and got the lawn beat down with my own underpowered tools. When I described the yard as “about fifty percent crabgrass, with the rest being made up of a mixture of moss, dandelions, California poppies, little tiny white flowers, clover, and a small amount of actual lawn grass,” I failed to mention that the proportion of crabgrass has been increasing each year as the proportion of lawn grass decreases. There are now large swaths of the yard with no lawn grass at all. On the other hand I’ve begun to appreciate the botanical diversity of my lawn and have begun to identify many of the species that grow there. I particularly like the miniature yarrow and the wild creeping geraniums.

This brings to mind a meditation I had on the nature of the weed. Weeds aren’t a botanical category; they’re a value judgment. Weeds a plants growing were you don’t want them to grow. Grass in the lawn is a plant; grass in the garden is a weed. Poppies in the garden are plants; poppies in the lawn are weeds. English ivy growing scenically up college buildings is a plant; English ivy growing anywhere else in the Northwest is a noxious, tree-killing, garden-strangling weed and must die! But what do you call the opposite of a weed. What is the word for a desirable plant that will only grow in the wrong place? While my lawn is becoming mostly crabgrass, the garden sports the softest most perfect grass. The blades are tiny and narrow, the most perfect Kelly green and only get about three inches long. And the cracks in the driveway are filled with the most beautiful red clover with tiny yellow flowers. It won’t grow anywhere else.

If the word exists, someone tell me. If not, let’s make one up.

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