Spring is springing, if not completely sprung, here in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania in the dwindling days of April. The hum, whine and sometimes roar of gas- and electric-powered mowers —large, small, pushed, and ridden—reminds me of what is coming. Most of my lawn has chosen not to grow to a height that cries out for trimming, but then there are those patches that have sprouted like mini jungles crying out to be
curtailed. This time of the year betrays the primitive origins of the grass in my non-cultivated and seldom-seeded lawn with its annual display of dandelions and various wild buds creeping up among clumps of higher grass that doesn’t complement the surrounding turf.
Don’t get me wrong. Newly mown it looks quite lush until the usual browning that occurs in the dog days of summer. I see this as a brief respite between mowing and raking. It fits right in with my role as an apathetic activist when it comes to environmental issues under my control. It reminds me of a spring and summer more than three decades in the past when I penned (okay I typed it) the following essay for the readers of my weekly newspaper column. It was a time when we were still allowed to burn leaves—and most did— in our little town.
So judge for yourself if I was indeed a progressive environmentalist when I wrote the following:
Here’s one of those new environmental thrusts (Ouch!) making the news these days. In an effort to preserve limited landfill space, a call had gone out to recycle grass clippings. What this means is that you cut the grass and leave the clippings lying on the ground. This is recycling. This is environmentalism in action. I’ve been an environmentalist all along and I didn’t even know it. Actually, I did know it. I just didn’t want to make a big deal about my environmental awareness. Yeh, that’s it. You could say I was ahead of my time.
Of the garbage that goes to our landfills, something like 18 percent of it is “yard waste.” Most of that, of course, is bagged grass and leaves. Those of us who have chosen, due to environmental concerns, not to rake up our grass, put it in bags and leave it out for collection are doing our part to help relieve the mounting waste storage crisis. Another thing I do to help all of us partake in a cleaner environment is to abstain from burning leaves. Unenlightened neighbors no doubt see this as laziness, even neglect, but what I’m really doing is practicing natural fertilization and not contributing to air pollution.
The downside is that my lawn doesn’t look as good as others during certain times of the year (such as whenever it’s not covered by snow), with its clusters of dead grass and coagulating leaves, but it’s the least I can do to help our environment.
I feel pity for those with well-manicured lawns showing nary a blade of loose grass, leaf or twig. It’s not their fault that they put a nice-looking lawn above the environment. Many of them were brought up this way and don’t know any better.
Kids don’t like to play in my lawn, another advantage of my environmental sensibilities, for fear they’ll slip on a pile of decomposing leaves or possibly disappear entirely in a quagmire of vegetating grass. That’s right, a quagmire.
I can’t play ball in the backyard,” my son whines. What’s wrong with kids nowadays? Do they think lawns are for having fun? He claims ground balls falter in mid-hop before downshifting into a slow-motion death. We’re preserving sporting paraphernalia. There are three baseballs still out there somewhere—two from last fall—a volleyball and a cantaloupe. They’re all waiting for the next mulching, which could happen any month now, and to be transformed into inorganic (except for the cantaloupe) fertilizer. Sometimes this mulching takes its toll on lawnmower blades, like the time I “found” my lost horseshoe stakes and the long-forgotten chassis on an old mower. Mowers have chassis, right?
Mowing grass should be a healthful activity, something frowned upon by people with riding lawnmowers comparable in size to their postage-stamp lawns. If your lawn is roughly the size of the outfield in Yankee Stadium, a riding mower is an understandable purchase, but if mowing your lawn consists of backing the big fella out of the garage, doing and back-and-forth and then returning to the garage, you probably could survive with a push mower or a couple of goats.
Kids don’t understand these environmental nuances and seem to think lawns are for frivolous pursuits like frolicking and other nonproductive behavior. And though frolicking may be generally harmless to the environment, it only encourages toxic brews of suntan lotions, spilled beverages and other environmental irritants to seep into the ground and, eventually, into the water table and subterranean aqueous passageways where they ultimately become a public health menace.
Just remember the bigger your lawn is, the more you are helping to alleviate the landfill crunch by recycling your mown grass. Leave it lie. I know what you prissy lawn buffs out there are thinking: “That’s not recycling! That’s doing nothing!” That’s the beauty of this whole thing. You get to be a conscientious environmentalist and save yourself a lot of work at the same time.
It’s what I call Apathetic Activism. It’s not the same as outright laziness. You still have to mow your lawn once in a while. Not too often, though, because it’s unfair to the grass to chop it down in the prime of growth. I say let it grow four, five or six inches. Grass is beautiful when it is long and willowy, waving gracefully in the wind and protecting rotting cantaloupes from the elements. There’s something unnatural about this fetish of ours to cut the grass within millimeters of its roots whenever it rises above the level of our lowest blade setting. Let it grow! If it clogs up the motor or burns out the engine, just trample it down a bit. It won’t look that bad— unless your neighbor with an adjacent neatly manicured lawn makes your lawn look like a hayfield. That’s what fences are for.
Do we cut down trees as soon as they get too tall to see over? Of course not. Do we hack down tomato plants and cornstalks just because they’re big enough to trip over? Then why this preoccupation with turning our lawns into putting greens?
Let’s show a little respect for nature on this critical issue. Become an Apathetic Activist by actively not caring. Do your part for a healthier lawn and you too can help save room in our garbage repositories for more important things like old tires, plastic water bottles and polyester disposable diapers.
Now that I’ve shared this with you, I must get the mower out for the first time this spring. It seems I’m not as actively apathetic as I used to be.