As I walk the dog through various neighborhoods, I cannot help but be attentive and observant to the world surrounding us--and to the behavior of the humans who inhabit these neighborhoods. Let’s take the case of yard maintenance in the Fall. In the Autumn, I am walking frequently through suburban style neighborhoods with stately trees and larger yards---And what I notice the most in these neighborhoods at this time of year is the obsessive and anal approach they have towards controlling leaf litter and other beneficial organic yard matter on their lawns---And the overall yard obsessive maintenance approach in general.
Ever since the invention of various machines--what I refer to as “technology run amuck”-- gas powered noise and emissions pollution producing lawn care products, the suburban environment does not stand a chance against the wrath of the ideology of “man versus nature” or “we must control nature” I believe this sort of fearful thinking takes root in the disconnection from----and the lack of understanding or appreciation of how the natural world works, how it is interconnected to us, how what we do either negatively or positively affects it……OR how we can work with it and not against it to achieve a healthy co-existing balance. After all these years since the crying Indian, we still haven’t learned much.
Why do so many people seem to think that their yard has to appear completely sterile all throughout this particular season---a season that is inherently messy? As someone who has been in the carpet cleaning business, I have observed lawns cleaner than carpets! I never really understood the logic in removing leaves from a specific piece of land year after year, denying that specific ground its nutritional due.
I have also witnessed people still placing leaves in plastic bags which is totally counter productive to the natural process of natural breakdown whereby nature recycles itself back into itself 100% I have observed people trying to blow soil out from their lawn and even suck leaves off the tree with the same machine! Woah! I see this behavior as a form of insanity.
Where does it say that the yard has to be devoid of all beneficial humus such as tiny bits of twigs, leaves, grass clippings, nuts and shells, and so on? These are nourishing products for the soil, in fact are components of healthy soil, as well as an important survival element for backyard friendly wildlife such as birds, squirrels, earthworms, and harmless insects. Sort of like the “Home Depot for animals” What may seem “dirty” to you, may be a food or shelter creating source for an animal trying to survive in the up-coming cold winter months.
What I find really astonishing is that so much of this organic material that nature provides free of charge, is then purchased in the spring in the form of in-organic carcinogenic lawn chemicals, compost shipped in from far away in plastic bags, low quality birdseed (that most birds won’t eat …hence a waste of money!), fertilizers, toxic sprays and so on. I shudder to think that as this oil dependent lawn care war wages on to achieve what essentially is a worthless-to-nature mono-culture 50X75 plot of bland green turf grass--where the only thing you can find moving in it is a lawn mower---that all these chemicals involved in the effort, will eventually end up in our water resources; and our drinking water! And for what? A mere lawn?
The anal obsession with yard care, especially in the Fall, even makes the “selfish act” of walking a nightmare when each time you step out the door for what should be a reasonably peaceful stroll, you are immediately greeted not with the sounds of birds or breezes….but instead the acoustically assaulting sounds of war on the yard with the incessant running of mowers, blowers, chainsaws, and a host of other weapons, as the boys fire up their engines and unleash the daily attack. Some of the commercial maintenance services with trucks, trailers, and a host of lawn care weapons even resemble SWAT teams about to attack the neighborhood!
Seeing that we have such an obesity problem in this country today, and if people still think they MUST do this, then perhaps getting some exercise with a rake or some other non-gas powered tool may not only be healthful, but also much more respectful and less anti-social to the neighborhood. I really pity those who can find no other fruitful or enlightening way to spend their time other than obsessing about a few leaves laying in their yard --- that would be ground up in a mower and recycled back into the soil by next spring anyway---if simply given the chance!
They will not be happy unless every last speck is removed from their property so that we never really know what season it is anyway. I also see the results as a drab yard, lacking in diversity, color and vibrant life, that exists in a truly healthy self maintaining yard. In a word, I see it is BORING! Could this final achievement be a testament to the personalities of the people? Afterall, we allow a lawn care industry commercials shape our opinions on subject and rarely do we stop to ask if all this obsession with thinking we can keep a yard spotless 365 days a year is really necessary. And if so, at what cost? The peace in the neighborhood? The quality of your water, soil and air….Or, your very own body? Personally, I find the behavior quite disturbing and rather scary!
Finally, I want to include a forwarded email classic that about sums it all up completely! Whoever wrote this must have been thinking exactly like me.
GOD AND ST. FRANCIS DISCUSSING LAWNS
GOD: Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.
ST. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers "weeds" and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.
GOD: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?
ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.
GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.
ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it-sometimes twice a week.
GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?
ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.
GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?
ST. FRANCIS: No Sir. Just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.
GOD: Now let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?
ST. FRANCIS: Yes, Sir.
GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.
ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.
GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.
ST. FRANCIS: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.
GOD: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?
ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.
GOD: And where do they get this mulch?
ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.
GOD: Enough. I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have they scheduled for us tonight?"
ST. CATHERINE: "Dumb and Dumber", Lord. It's a really stupid movie about.....
GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.