For about the last twenty years, I’ve watched my across-the-street neighbor plant grass each spring and fall. She seeds then waters hours day and night. Then, for a short spell she’ll have luminescent lime tendrils and she will stand in the street, hands on hips surveying the tenuous fruit of her labor with satisfaction.
She performs this biannual ritual because there is a redbud in her yard and the neighbors on both sides have oaks leafing shade on her property. Her front yard clearly isn’t meant to grow grass and it keeps trying to tell her that. Nevertheless she’s internalized the edict that if you have a yard there’s supposed to be grass in it.
Distilled from the notion of manifest destiny, this prime directive somehow transcends physical evidence to the contrary, transcends the arithmetic of climate change, global water shortage, mass extinction, dead zones downstream; transcends even refrigerator magnet wisdom: if you do what you’ve always done…
Cut to my daughters’ school. The district’s grounds crew is at work: there’s a man on riding mower jockeying a slope. There’s another on a standing mower traversing a field.
On the steps kids are hanging out, a couple of them are eating hot chips. Hot chips—out of a bag. This bag may get tossed on the lawn to be shredded by mowers, creating plastic confetti, which is hardly celebratory to any being downstream.
Cut to what’s in the news, fall 2018:
*Among other shit storms, hurricane Florence is triggering flooding of CAFOs and coal ash pits in southeastern states.
*4 in 10 Americans live with unhealthy air.
*Over 500,000 people are employed in hazardous factory farms.
*Over three million migrant and seasonal workers labor in hazardous American fields.
*The number of uninsured Americans is on the rise yet over half of Americans are on a prescription medication.
*Trump’s dismantles the EPA while strengthening the fossil fuel industry.
How are these things connected to lawns?
A problem of pursuing a monoculture is our sight gets channeled through the crosshairs of the here and now in the rifle of what’s expected. We miss the forest with our my-tree-only perspective. But we live, move and have our being in a global forest, if you will. Unwittingly though, through lawns and landscaping, we’re complicit in a globally, economically, environmentally destructive forest. By contrast, a thriving forest is a mutualistic ecosystem; interrelationships facilitate the health of everything within.
After Hurricane Katrina, people realized that cypress trees were and are the best defense against hurricanes, better even than levees. While that’s great for our species, cypress trees also provide wildlife habitat and restrain invasive plants. Tragically, much of the old growth cypress forest has been turned into mulch for landscaping. My need for a landscaped lawn contributed to the destruction suffered by Louisianans, many of who are still suffering.
How then do we change the prevailing aim of pursuing what-serves-my-tree-only to pursuing what’s-good-for-the-forest?
The words of Mary Parker Follet come to mind: Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. We attain unity only through variety. Differences must be integrated, not annihilated, not absorbed.