Suburban Grass (No, not that kind)

Here is some fine prose and poetry from long-time commenter and collaborator Joan Ryan. The dialog between God and St. Francis which precedes Joan’s material is of unknown provenance; evidently it has been knocking around the internet for years. I wonder who wrote it?

GOD: Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? 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 colours by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. 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 sensitive to temperatures. Do they 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 them 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 people 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. 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. It’s a natural cycle of life.

ST. FRANCIS : You better sit down, Lord. They 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 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.

As most of you know, Brentwood, formerly Maddenville, is a largely German community, and the term “Scrubby Dutch” is accurate right down to each tidy postage stamp front lawn. The sound of the hired lawn services for the more privileged is a signal for retirees and yuppies with puppies alike to sprint to their sheds, break out the weed whackers and Torros and mow like crazy. Lord knows, we can’t have our lawns looking unkempt.

During the last three weeks I have literally gone bonkers because my mower was in the shop. What will the neighbors think? Will I get fined by the city? At first I paced like a prisoner with an ankle bracelet. I could not go far from the house, even to water the flowers because of the intense heat, and was humiliated by my wild and wooly front lawn. Finally I decided to weed a little in the back yard, where the crabgrass killer and fertilizer are not employed. I can only afford to look good from the front. I yanked the more egregious weeds, like nut grass and crab, but also during this time, I re-discovered that old bromide that weeds are really just flowers growing where we don’t want them.

Today, the lawnmower was finally fixed. Braving (Well, it was not brave, but totally foolhardy) the 100 plus heat, I charged out and laid waste to both unruly lawns. I was feeling pretty proud of myself. But…be careful what you wish for. I find myself kind of missing the weeds. Nothing to photograph. No butterflies bouncing around the backyard. The rabbits, who were satisfied with the clover, are now looking pretty predatorily at my petunias. A blackbird or grackle or some species that looked like a Boeing 707 compared to my usual sparrows, actually uprooted and flew away with a small marigold a few weeks back. Trust no critter in a trimmed lawn.

Who knew I’d discover I had need for weeds? These feelings of uncomfortable nostalgia, along with the hilarious send up of our suburban lifestyle in the above dialogue between God and St. Francis which someone sent me, inspired this atypical (because it’s non-snarky ) verse below. I have my velvet Zoysia front lawn back as well as it’s stepchild, the more scrufty back yard. But something seems to be missing. Be careful what you wish for.

The Broken Lawnmower

Three weeks of rain mixed well with sultry heat
The yard a tangled jungle, weeds galore,
Wild strawberries invade my tidy turf
Small milkweed tendrils sprout where none before.

At sneaky snail’s pace, leaves the size of dimes,
Sly Creeping Charlie used to snake along.
Now multitudes of leaves replace each one
Their tiny notes have grown into a song.

Wild violets here are once again untamed.
Leaves sprout like fountains, small and pale and green.
And timid purple flowers crest their waves
Where formerly they would have been unseen.

Then, power mower, cured of balking blades
Their nemesis returns to battleground.
Soon not a single flower can be seen.
Decapitated blades of grass abound.


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