Skip to main content
This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

I’m mad about grass today.

No, I’m mad about some grass today.

Actually… I’m mad about lawn.

But mostly I’m mad about people and lawns together.

Yes, that’s it. People and lawns are ridiculous and I’m mad about them today because for one, I spent all day sneezing thanks to the lawn being mowed here. Two, when I wasn’t sneezing I was inhaling gasoline fumes from the lawnmowers. Three, whether I was sneezing or not I had to listen to the endless whine and whir and buzz of lawn tools. Mowers. Leaf blowers. Weed whackers.

Do you know why everybody has a lawn?

Think about it. I’ll give you a minute.

No cheating.

The reason everybody has a lawn is because everybody has a lawn. It is exactly as simple as that. Back before suburban dystopia took over, people had fields, perhaps, which had grass. People had flower gardens. People had vegetables.

Lawns were the purview of the wealthy and the aristocracy. Lawns, in fact, were Useful once. They initially surrounded castles because they created wide open space that prevented enemies from getting close without notice. Lawns eliminated obstacles and hiding places.

Lawns were also Not Useful, too. They were a fashion choice for people who had the exorbitant resources to maintain a closely cropped field, usually in the form of servants with scythes.

The Not Useful lawn came to America when Thomas Jefferson copied the trend at his Monticello Estate. It should be pretty obvious what happened from there. Other rich people followed suit because whether it’s a pineapple or an inch and a half of grass, you know everyone has to have it.

Then when lawn mowers were invented, the rabble could get in on the action so they traded their flowers and vegetables for grass.

Throw things like capitalism into the mix, and you’ve got an entire population of American Dreamers who want their white picket fences and now you’ve got a plethora of patents and new tools and special seeds and fertilizers and actual grass farmers who grow it so it can be rolled up and put down somewhere else.

Here is a statistic I found: in 1939, 139,000 lawn mowers were sold nationwide. In 1949? Four-point-two million. That should give you an idea of how this lawn thing took over.

Unless you’re playing golf or want to have a back yard badminton game, lawns are functionally useless. They are not particularly attractive in their monochromatic emptiness. And they are – if you’ll forgive my vehemence – a bitch to maintain.

Grass is the most water-greedy vegetation you can plant, which is not terrifically ideal if you have a well or pay for city water or if there is a drought and your town limits sprinkler usage. They are notoriously maladapted and will wither in the slightest sunbeam. Homeowners go into apoplectic frenzies at the sight of a single dandelion, and personally, I can think of at least two or three better things to do with a Saturday than spend hours behind a grass-spitting gasoline-spewing machine just for the honor of doing it again the following Saturday.

And what do you get for your diligence? A swath of brown crud in the middle of summer and all winter, and oh, don’t forget the leaves to rake every fall so your brown crud doesn’t get mad and die.

Also allergies.

I told you I was mad.

Today was landscaping day, and I mean “one of the several landscaping days we have here every week” because it is not enough to mow the lawn, you also have to blow every stray blade of grass off the sidewalks and driveways. Grass, it turns out, is idolized when it is part of the lawn but loathed when it dares tread on pavement.

The noise went on all day. The sneezing following suit.

It was a beautiful day today and I was going to take a walk but it was quite impossible. I could not move ten steps down the sidewalk without being peppered with flying grass, and nary a bird could be heard above the roar of the mowers.

I stayed inside instead, and eventually shut all the windows, too.

All this for… lawn.

Can’t go outside to actually enjoy it, just have to sit in your chair and watch it be manicured. Nobody sees the irony in this.

One good thing came out of it, though. I added to my Dream House: must not have lawn.

There are so many better options. A wildflower garden, for example. A copse of trees with nothing beneath them but the earth and stones and moss that belong there. A pretty stone patio or a rock garden. Tulips in spring and allium in summer. A fish pond.

A field, maybe. As long as nobody mows it.

The farm where we like to go walking is 200 acres of mostly open fields. It is not a working farm but a preserved historical spot. There is a beautiful pond with ducks and geese and swans and herons. And in summer the fields are overgrown with the most spectacular display of wildflowers in every color of the rainbow. Butterflies flock there by the zillion.

If you look closely you can see butterflies.

Bees, too, but when bees are busy with flowers they have zero interest in you and will not bother you or fly around you one bit.

Whoever maintains it mows a path so you can walk the perimeter. There is also a decent amount of lawn but it isn’t the highlight and it has a purpose. It’s where people go for picnics and to throw balls to their dogs. It’s where they host festivals and park food trucks.

The rest of the fields are just that – fields. The grass grows how it likes, in tall waving expanses of dark and light green and hay-brown. It is full of clover and buttercups.

A homeowner’s nightmare. Isn’t it lovely?

Rabbits hang out there. Gophers keep guard. Deer stroll through.

It is one of my favorite places to be.

Most of the flowers are taller than me.

Inexplicably, though, every summer the mowers come out and raze the entire thing to the ground. I don’t know why. Perhaps there is a good reason and it helps everything grow back later. But when it happens it’s like a crime scene.

Post-mowing. A cause for great wailing and gnashing of teeth.

I know there are wars and people starving but for me there is nothing more tragic than that moment when I go to the farm and see all those glorious flowers crushed to the ground. The butterflies are gone, the bees are gone, the deer, if they haven’t absconded to the woods, stand there looking confused.

And I am reminded once again how mad I am about lawn.

And then I sneeze.

Apparently, grass growing is not a problem but once it’s cut it spews evil into the air that clings to every cilia in your nostrils. That makes the solution very simple: stop cutting it!

Anyway, I have wound myself up and down again. Sneezing, it turns out, is exhausting, being mad even more so. And while I am wholly opposed to having a home surrounded by lawn, I will say this much: if you can make it ten minutes without sneezing, cut grass does smell delicious.

There is a place for lawn, and it can look quite lovely. But maybe it’s time to rethink the obsession. Just think of what you could do with all those extra Saturdays.

Photo: not sand, not bare ground, but acre upon acre of grass when it doesn’t get its way.