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On Lawn and Weeds
My dear Readers:
The topic of this Almanac is Lawns and Weeds. A fine topic for Spring, for what is the first thing almost every North American homeowner and municipality equate with Spring? No, not baseball or hockey/basketball playoffs. Lawn care and maintenance. Even as the TV squawks about some magic chemical that will produce a uniformly coloured and populated expanse of terra firma, every able male, in search of the perfect lawn, is cranking up his power lawnmower to keep those blades of grass at their socially acceptable height. The perfect lawn? A mono-speciated expanse of land covered in grass, a middle green in colour and containing absolutely no hint of a weed including any species of grass not reproducible from a seed bag. We even give bad names to the grasses we do not want: crab grass, quack grass, panic grass, and barnyard grass. As a result of the exalted position of a lawn, Spring means warfare against weeds by an arsenal of imposing chemical and mechanical weapons.
What is a weed exactly? The best definition I have ever come across is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: "A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." The American College Dictionary defines weed as "any useless, troublesome or noxious plant." My old Golden Nature Guide to Weeds defines weeds as "plants that look "weedy" -- those that are generally unglamorous in appearance." Perhaps I too am a weed because I look unglamorous in appearance. Were Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Golda Mier all weeds as well?
I really think we call something a weed because we can't control it. Note the definition of a weed as a troublesome plant. Troublesome to whom? We humans, of course! And especially to those guardians of the garden and lawn.
How many times have you hacked and hacked and pulled and pulled at the weeds in your lawn or garden only to find, a week later, six plants where there once was one? What grows in the middle of your asphalt driveway or between the cracks in the cement of walkways and patios? Weeds. What grows no matter if it is too hot or too cold or too dry or too wet? Weeds. No wonder we hate them. They are just too darn adaptable, independent and persistent.
Weeds live outside the realm of requiring constant human care and that makes us feel unimportant, feel as if we are not in control. And that is something that humans cannot abide with. We feel we must control nature and life because we are the apex of all evolution. It is our God-given assignment. But, it isn't enough that we have the power of life and death over all plants, we must also tell them where to grow, how high to grow and how prolific they can be, even when that plant is native to the area. Heaven help a poor native grass or other plant which strays into a manicured lawn. Such trespass is punishable by death.
Weeds, however, live exceedingly well under the basic conditions of a lawn: good food, good drink, a chance to catch some solar rays. Some can even tolerate the buzz cut of a lawn mower. I swear that dandelions lay down just before I run them over with the mower and rise again to their full height by the dawning of the next day, mocking me with their bright yellow flowers or fuzzy heads waving in the breeze.
Meanwhile, the constant fertilizing and watering of an expanse of grass results in a growth boom. This brings on a weekend-long whine of motors attempting to undo what the fertilizing, and watering has just done: make the grass plants grow.
So it is in the neighbourhood. First, Ned, the early riser, breaks the Saturday morning silence. Then Bill next door has to get out and mow his lawn because Ned's cannot be shorter or more uniform. This awakens Jerry to follow suit, and Mick sends his boys out to join the legion. By the time the sun sets, the neighbourhood has been assaulted by a cacophony of small gasoline engines and electric motors. On Sunday morning word of the activity on our street has reached another neighbourhood's Grass Watch, and they start their assault on the species under their management. By evening, the sound of cranky lawnmowers is embedded in my brain, and, like those repetitious, bad melodies, loops through my mind.
I have never quite figured out how the municipal park department gains their knowledge of the weekend's grass attack, but on Monday, they bring the heavy artillery into the nearby park and begin the assault.
I have always wanted to retaliate by using sheep to cut my uneven multi-specied yard vegetation with the pretty yellow flowers. (I now only cut it when the scowls of the neighbours became too unbearable.) Perhaps if I crossed sheep with laughing hyenas, I could get a mower which seemed to enjoy the work. (This work ain't b-a-a-a-d, ah-ha ha ha!) Would annoy the neighbours nicely, I suspect.
Lawns and weeds. Symbols of the human genetic characteristic to not be able to leave something alone, the need to manage as if we knew best. We believe that several million years of evolution gave us the ability to set right nature which did not learn a thing from several billion years of evolution. Someday we will teach machines to do the same thing, tend lawns and gardens, toss out the weeds and pests. Then after several million years, they will turn on us and manage humanity, because we never learned to take care of ourselves properly. And for once, this logic may be right.
Your weedy servant
p. Keith, PbH
Poor Keith's Almanac: On Lawn and Weeds by Keith C. Heidorn, PhD . ©2001, 2002, All Rights Reserved.
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