Saturday, December 9, 2017


Image result for lawn

Edward Hessler

A short film, 2 minutes, narrated by Michael Pollan on a major element in our daily landscape, the lawn, especially the front lawn, the well-tended, frequently trimmed and cared for lawn.

Pollan has written extensively about lawns. One of my favorite passages in these writings is about his father's relationship to his lawn. Pollan's father was a "lawn dissident." I quote several paragraphs from his essay in the New York Times.

"Whether owing to laziness or contempt for his neighbors I was never sure, but he could not see much point in cranking up the Toro more than once a month or so. The grass on our quarter-acre plot towered over the crew-cut lawns on either side of us and soon disturbed the peace of the entire neighborhood.
"That subtle yet unmistakable frontier, where the closely shaved lawn rubs up against a shaggy one, is a scar on the face of suburbia, an intolerable hint of trouble in paradise. The scar shows up in “The Great Gatsby,” when Nick Carraway rents the house next to Gatsby’s and fails to maintain his lawn according to West Egg standards. The rift between the two lawns so troubles Gatsby that he dispatches his gardener to mow Nick’s grass and thereby erase it.
"Our neighbors in Farmingdale displayed somewhat less class. “Lawn mower on the fritz?” they’d ask. “Want to borrow mine?” But the more heavily they leaned on my father, the more recalcitrant he became, until one summer””probably 1959, or ’60″”he let the lawn go altogether. The grass plants grew tall enough to flower and set seed; the lawn rippled in the breeze like a flag. There was beauty here, I’m sure, but it was not visible in this context. Stuck in the middle of a row of tract houses on Long Island, our lawn said turpitude rather than meadow, even though strictly speaking that is what it had become.
"That summer I felt the hot breath of the majority’s tyranny for the first time. No one said anything now, but you could hear it all the same: Mow your lawn or get out. Certain neighbors let it be known to my parents that I was not to play with their children. Cars would slow down as they drove by. Probably some of the drivers were merely curious: they saw the unmowed lawn and wondered if someone had left in a hurry, or perhaps died. But others drove by in a manner that was unmistakably expressive, slowing down as they drew near and then hitting the gas angrily as they passed””pithy driving, the sort of move that is second nature to a Klansman.
"We got the message by other media, too. Our next-door neighbor, a mild engineer who was my father’s last remaining friend in the development, was charged with the unpleasant task of conveying the sense of community to my father. It was early on a summer evening that he came to deliver his message. I don’t remember it all (I was only 4 or 5 at the time), but I can imagine him taking a highball glass from my mother, squeaking out what he had been told to say about the threat to property values and then waiting for my father””who next to him was a bear””to respond.
"My father’s reply could not have been more eloquent. Without a word he strode out to the garage and cranked up the rusty old Toro for the first time since fall; it’s a miracle the thing started. He pushed it out to the curb and then started back across the lawn to the house, but not in a straight line: he swerved right, then left, then right again. He had cut an “S” in the high grass. Then he made an “M,” and finally a “P.” These are his initials, and as soon as he finished writing them he wheeled the lawn mower back to the garage, never to start it up again."

And speaking of lawns, a recent story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by Josephine Marcotty on lawn research by Sam Bauer, a lawn and grass specialist at the University of Minnesota. He conducted a survey of 1000 Twin Cities homeowners and found that most of overwater their lawns. This includes a not insignificant chunk of paved surfaces (collateral damage). Half of those surveyed rely on an automatic sprinkler system that water whether it is raining or not. These systems are quite likely to have a poorly functioning (leaking) sprinkling head. Finally, the lawn grass of choice is the classic Kentucky bluegrass which demands a lot of water, fertilizer and maintenance.  All of these are contributing to stressing metro aquifers.

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