I am eternally puzzled by the American obsession with lawns. I wrote about this topic several years ago, but it’s time to look at it again now that the green movement is (finally) gaining momentum and our dependence on fossil fuels is becoming more telling.
People devote inordinate amounts of time and money to keeping short what wants to grow, often in places that are unused and could just as well be natural meadows or woodlands. On Friday I saw a man mowing a field along Harmont Avenue, a stretch of rough grass that bordered the lake formed from a former strip mine. The field seems to have no purpose and could be left a tall meadow, making it a home for wildlife. That same day men on riding mowers mowed huge swaths of grass at the sheriff’s office. Multi-acre tracts of land everywhere you look are devoted to short grass because, as far as I know, people consider no other use for the land. Those acres of grass could just as easily, more easily, be left to return to a natural state.
Much of the practice of keeping lawns short lies in public opinion about what looks good. Many people consider tall grass and “weeds” (what constitutes a weed is a matter of opinion) unsightly, but I prefer a tall meadow replete with a wide variety of plants and flowers or a shaded woodland to a short lawn kept free of “weeds” where the grass encouraged to grow and the weeds discouraged by the application of poisonous chemicals.
Why do you need all that mowed lawn? Look at wild areas. Do you see well-trimmed meadows populated by one species? Plants want to grow to a certain height, and they thrive on diversity, but people work hard to keep lawns at unnaturally short heights. People mow acres and acres of grass that seem to have no use other than being short and well-trimmed. They turn their property into perfect miniature golf courses and then drive to nature centers for walks in the woods.
I believe that we could greatly decrease oil use and pollution by making a major change in our attitude toward lawns. We could reduce gasoline usage and pollution by reducing the use of power lawn equipment and by keeping equipment we use in good order. We could eliminate leafblowers and return to good old-fashioned brooms. We could eliminate power weed trimmers by returning to hand clippers. We could eliminate snowblowers and return to shovels.
You may say that doing all that yard work without power equipment is impossible, but people pay loads of money to belong to a gym, so they have the time and the muscle. They just need to redirect that energy. Instead of working out at a gym, moving pieces of metal and accomplishing nothing, they could volunteer for city, township, county and national parks, historical sites, churches, schools or any number of organizations that beg for volunteers, cutting grass with a scythe and trimming weeds with hand trimmers. They could pay for the privilege of volunteering, thus benefiting the organization in two ways, instead of throwing their money at a gym.
If you must use a power mower, use a walking mower rather than a riding mower, which requires extra gas and power just to haul yourself around. Even better, use an old-fashioned non-powered mower that makes a pleasant clicking and whirring. That sound, which is close to the pace of the human heart, is comforting, whereas the high rpm of a power mower is unsettling, creating tension. Moreover, a nonpower mower can be heard at the farthest a few yards away, whereas I can hear some power mowers, which sound like an airplane warming up while the pilot does his preflight checklist, two or three blocks away. If it’s too much lawn to cut without power equipment, maybe you should assess the size of grass you feel compelled to mow. You could also mow less often.
People must not understand the intricate interconnectedness of everything. Mowing lawns contributes to the complex problems of high oil usage and the pollution in the air, which settles in our skin, lungs, soil, water and houses. Put chemicals on the grass, and they end up in the ground and water and eventually in the food you eat. When you consider the millions of lawns in this country, mowing and chemical treatments add up to a massive amount of poison and pollution in the air, water and soil. Why do you want to surround yourself with toxic substances?
Picture Ohio as it was in the 1700s, when trees covered the land and animals thrived in a natural environment. Now picture returning as much of the land as possible to that natural state. Give up the lawns, and cultivate forests and meadows.
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