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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Having the privilege of taking care of two yards, I think quite a bit about the concept of Lawn. One of ours is in the suburbs. conventional, bordered nearly all the way around by clipped hedge or trees planted in a row, and it is somewhat ratty looking, with weeds and bare spots and chipmunk holes, because we don't have a lawn service and are not terribly serious about brush-cut perfection. The other is in the country (more or less the country), somewhat bigger and less conventional, just as weedy if not more so, edged by wilder vegetation, and including a large leaching field out back that I mow as if it were lawn. Both lawns look great in June (but don't look too closely), pathetic by August.

Actually, I don't really take care of yards. I merely mow the lawns, and occasionally provide some muscle or weed duties in the gardens. We break down our outdoor duties along stereotypical gender lines, sweat vs esthetics, for example, or action vs emotion.

So we maintain our patches of control against wilderness. Humans love contrast, don't we, or is it that we need contrast? In spite of all conventionality, a tended mono-culture lawn still looks great against profusion beyond. The lined edges of a garden, curved or straight, rock or rail tie or just edged dirt, still look great between cut grass and clipped hedge. Even the unnatural mound of a leaching field shines in the middle of woods like a glade. And my absolute favorite part of the country lawn is the twenty feet that span the edge of the bank, especially on a stormy day like today when the surf crashes below. The wildness, and the control, are always within reach.

By the way, Wikipedia has an excellent entry on  the lawn, in spite of calling it "managed grass space" with no hint of irony. It's a potent symbol of many things, including privilege, especially before the invention of mowing machines in the 19th century when laborers and animals kept lawns trim. America adopted the lawn wholesale from the English, a not-so-subtle indication of class and race in our so-called class-less society. Perhaps it's really because lawns are a terrible waste - the water, fumes of fuel, the chemicals, the @#$%^&* leaf blowers - and we're proud that we're prosperous enough to afford them. And in spite of the modern trend to tear them up and plant fruit trees or cactus (or is that being done only in places with water crises?), we hang on here in New England, of the manor born, mowing to our hearts' content.

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