The Way Back: The Perfect Lawn

/The Way Back: The Perfect Lawn
The Way Back: The Perfect Lawn 2017-09-17T02:32:34+00:00

Satire – © 2005 Ingrid Taylar for Flak Magazine


There’s nothing like waking up to the roar of a Shindaiwa EB250 leaf blower pumping lawn detritus through your bedroom window at 166 mph. Every Monday it’s my urban reveille, followed by a tear-jerking plume of fuel exhaust from a Pony Tiller.

The Los Angeles slang for this morning routine is “mow, blow and go” — horticultural shorthand for that wham-bam style of gardening where a quick reshuffling of leaves and turf scalping constitute property maintenance.

In the same spirit, most of our neighborhood trees have been flush cut, crowned and tipped down to their stubs, often in mere minutes. Witnessing the latest of these operations, I asked a neighbor why he was uprooting yet another tree. His response: “I’m getting tired of pruning it. It’s shedding on my lawn.”

So, down it came … along with the protective habitat for our resident mockingbird, and a canopy of neighborhood shade. The mockingbird never returned, ending four years of his midnight serenade which wafted indoors upon Santa Ana breezes. And the karmic twist for my neighbor is that patches of pythium blight developed where the tree used to be, most likely as a result of the direct sun now searing the grass — lawn burn, if you will.

Were the leaves the lawn owner’s greatest problem? He succumbed to the green god, the tapis vert of Versailles or of Monticello but in doing so, he condemned himself to a cycle of endless labor. He chainsawed a self-reliant tree with no apparent health burden and replaced it with a buzz cut that will need a cocktail of fungicide and fertilizer, combined with increased thatch reduction and a restructuring of his automatic sprinkling system so as to prevent grease-spot saturation. Estimated human hours: ten times what it would have been to rake a few leaves.

There’s a distinction between “lawn” — the chemically-addicted form — and the natural grasses that nurture ladybugs, pollinators and a host of other wild things striving to live free and prosper. The English aesthetic of a prim green beneath the feet is the Berber wall-to-wall of the outdoors. The amount of deterrent and poison needed to keep a lawn in its most virgin state, is anathema to nature.  Lawn is an urban separator — a divider, not a uniter. It breaks our link with chaos and surprise, and replaces it with sterile predictability.

My rough calculations reveal that the lawn-to-native ratio is increasing in our neighborhood, which seems to comply with national estimates that lawn represents about 30 million acres of our lithosphere… 30 million and growing. That’s practically a biome in itself. When you consider that 78 million acres of rainforest are leveled every year, it’s possible “lawn” will actually bypass rainforest in terms of planetary biomass, which means the rules of taxonomy will have to be rewritten to exclude those species no longer viable in the face of “lawn.”

The promise of one huge, homogeneous blanket of mono crop may bode well for lawn mower racing competitions and robotic mowers. But the real costs begin mount in biological terms when, 1) a lawnmower produces 10 or so times the pollution of your average car, and 2) the estrogenic effects of some commonly used pesticides turn your previously taut pecs into 38 double-Ds. The urban effluent careening downstream toward frogville has thus far produced just a few hermaphroditic frogs and maybe an effeminate salamander or two. It’s a point worth pondering the next time you get tired of raking leaves.

— graphic by Derek Evernden

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