Friday, August 1, 2008

Magic Realism and the Secret Life of Lawns

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.


Eric Shonkwiler said...

Hm. Now I think I know why you come to the aid of Delillo when I attack him and his ilk.

Irrelephant said...

Resting happily in the middle, neither extreme drawing you. Excellent! I have to say though I don't envy you the need to water and fertilize. I think I might end up with one of those barren moonscapes like your busier neighbor!

I too am the "let grow what may grow" type of person--the St. Augustine grass keeps most anything weedy smothered. Electric mower? *S* My grandparents next door had two. Little green-bodied things, with white, mushroom-capped tubes where the 'real' motor should be. I remember that quiet, fuzzy hum they'd make, and the constant rustle of clippings being ejected. Unfortunately were I to claim and start using one it'd take me around 12 hours to finish.


Nancy Dancehall said...

"In the spring dandelions rear their yellow heads and their seeds march toward my lawn as if driven by manifest destiny."

Hee! That's loverly. Me, I pull 'em up and eat 'em, if they aren't too big and bitter yet. Moo.

Joni Mithcell has an album called "The Hissing of Summer Lawns.' I didn't know what she was talking about until we got our sprinkler fixed.

Mona Buonanotte said...

I kid myself that when I don't mow the lawn, I'm helping nature...bunnies LOVE the clover! And no air pollution, right?

Um...or maybe I should just hire you to mow my lawn for me, in intricate and fantastic designs.

Victoria Gothic said...


But yeah, your pretty much right. AND EVERYTHING IS FALLING APART! The college admition people won't reply and the e-mail logon is broken and I can't foward my AP tests and I have to sign up for an meeting on friday but no one at the college knows it exists and I have to take an Accuplacer by wednesday but I can't sign up for it and I have work pratically all day tomorrow and I can't get out of it and if I don't get all this done by tonight or tommrow at the latest I'll have to go back to taking my senior year at high school! RARR!!!!!!!!!!! I'M GOING TO IMPLODE!!!! I'M LISTENING TO LOUD FRENCH TECHNO/RAVE MUSIC AND I'M HYPED UP ON CAFFEENE AND I'M NOT GOING TO SLEEP UNTIL THIS IS ALL DONE!!!!!

Victoria Gothic said...

Oh yeah, after thought. I always liked mowing the lawn. It gave me time to think.

Ta ta for now.

Clowncar said...

I don't like alotta those postmodern folk, but Dwlillo does it well, E. Didn't you begrudgingly put White Noise in your top 10?

Sounds like your mower could kick my mowers ass, Irr. Hey, Ijust Ordered All Flesh Is Grass on Amazon tonight, based on your recommend. If it sucks I'm gonna blame you.

Oh, yeah, Nancy, I often think of that album title when I hear lawn sprinklers, and I've never even heard the album - just love the title. I bet Val loves that album.

Well, Mona, I'm still a pretty sh1tty lawn mower. Maybe we could hire a neighborhood kid to mow your lawn while we break open a six pack on the porch.

Breathe, Vic. It's all work out. Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream. John Lennon said that, like two decades before you were born. Good to see you again.

Daisy said...

Is it possible that I live next to you?

The weed trees give me rashes when I cut them down. I keeping meaning to, but then the idea of a rash...

You shoulda seen the place across the street! Well, you couldn't, actually, for all the mature weed trees. New owners brought in a lumberjack.