I used to hate mowing the lawn. I'd dream up poems in my head while I did it, using the standard boiler-plate teenage angst about conformity and the sublimation of nature. My Dad tells me I was very bad at mowing, leaving huge swaths of lawn unmowed while I was busy composing my angry anti-lawn manifestos.
I’m not much better at mowing now, but one thing has changed; weirdly, I now love lawn care. Well, not love, maybe, but enjoy. Using the little whirl-a-gig thing to spread fertilizer in the Spring. Fine-tuning the sprinklers as the jets of water chase my girls across the grass. The bits of grass sticking to the sweat on my leg (there, I used the word “sweat,” Mona, thus fulfilling my word o’ the week obligations) as I mow. Giving the mower electric cord just the right flick to get it over a rock or a potted plant (we have an electric mower, which is quiet and relatively maintenance free, but not for the easily frustrated; stringing the cord successfully after you without getting tangled up requires strategy and patience).
More importantly, where I used to see mowing the lawn as a badge of conformity, I now see it as a vessel, albeit small, for creativity and individuality. Across the street is a wall of three perfectly green, perfectly kept lawns. The owners are retired, assumedly nothing better to do than obsess about lawn care, and that is fine with me. They are all nice people. And they have nice lawns. They’re expressing themselves.
My next door neighbor, however, is the bad seed (pun somewhat intended) on the block. Never waters. Never mows. Ever. He has no actual grass left on his lawn anymore, as the Big Heat here in the high desert has baked it dead. All that's left are tall towers of weeds and many sprouting junk trees (the actual name is Paradise trees, I think, but they are nasty things, weed trees, unrepentantly predatory). In the spring dandelions rear their yellow heads and their seeds march toward my lawn as if driven by manifest destiny. I don’t care, particularly. He has a lot of things on his plate. And I’m a believer in what you could call passive bio-diversity; I try to keep the lid on the weeds in my lawn, but I have no interest in eradicating them, and rarely use herbicides. The weeds that are already on my lawn can stay, and give the biologically diverse finger to the perfectly manicured lawns across the street.
In The Novel, I went on and on about the secret lives of lawns, the mini-ecosystem of grubs and worms and bugs and aphids, the menagerie of critters (cats, dogs, foxes, raccoons) sneaking across it at night, the tangled beauty of everyday objects, from broken garden gnomes to the shimmering arc of water thrown from a lawn spinkler, late at night. I was trying to construct a version of Magic Realism specific to the suburbs. But with The Novel long finished, I no longer feel the need to belabor the point. I’m happy poised between extremes, the anarchy of the lawn next to me, the rigid tyranny of the lawns across the street.