Existentialism and Lawn Care

This year, I’ve decided to be kinder to my lawn and join my fellow suburbanites in working hard to keep it nice and green, rather than just hoping all the grass dies as soon as possible.

In past years, I used an old-fashioned push mower of 1950s vintage, made of 100% heavy steel. I hated mowing the lawn as a result, and I kept it on the lowest setting so that all the grass would die of thirst by late spring. You could actually look up my neighborhood in Google Maps and see a clear difference between our yard and those of the surrounding houses. Ours was the brown patch, visible from space.

There were several reasons for my vendetta against lawn care and my resulting use of the hand-me-down antique mower. Before we bought our house five years ago, I’d always lived in apartments and never had to care for a yard. Before then, growing up in my parents’ house, they didn’t like mowing the lawn either, so I was always the one stuck doing it. “It builds character,” they said. Phooey. Plus, gas-powered lawn mowers are noisy, dirty, fuel-wasting contraptions that are just plain bad for the environment, both in your yard and from a global standpoint. It also didn’t help that my family had a garage fire when I was a kid, and I’ve had a fear of putting gasoline in a garage ever since. I won’t even put a car in our garage today.

Then, last fall, the old push mower broke after 50+ years of service. One of the steel parts snapped in two. It was impressive. I ended up having to get a new mower, and I settled on one of those newfangled rechargable battery powered mowers.

The fact that it’s a lot lighter and makes cutting the lawn a lot easier has made the act of mowing less dreadful this spring. I’m finding that I’m doing it more often, and that I don’t mind it that much, either. I’m keeping the mower on one of the highest settings possible so that the grass doesn’t require as much moisture to survive, and the result is that our lawn is currently one of the greener-looking ones on our street.

I was feeling good about this until, while mowing yet again on Saturday, the thought hit me: at no time and in no place in human history other than here and now would this be considered a good use of one’s time, let alone rational behavior.

Think about it. In our culture today, it is considered perfectly acceptable — nay, required in many localities — to spend vast amounts of time maintaining a large space where nothing grows on it save grass. And that grass can’t get too long; there are regulations about that, complete with fines for non-compliance.

How much arable land in our towns and suburbs currently takes the form of “lawn?” Lawns don’t produce any food crops, and it isn’t like they are part of the forests and meadows that the land would naturally produce if left free of human intervention.

It’s one thing to expend time and energy intervening in the ecosystem around you if you are doing it in the practice of agriculture; it’s another thing entirely if you are doing it simply to keep a lawn looking nice, green, short, and weed free (especially when many of those weeds, such as dandelions, are in fact edible and very nutritious).

Imagine if you were a peasant in medieval Europe, and you decided that, in a large space of land in your village, rather than growing beets this year, you were going to plant this stuff called “Kentucky Bluegrass.”

“How do you eat it,” your neighbors would ask. “You don’t,” you reply. “Oh, so that means the sheep will graze on it,” they say. “Oh, no,” you say in response. “You don’t use it for anything. You just spend hours upon hours every month keeping it nicely trimmed to 1-3/4″ in height, and you make sure none of those dandelions get in there.”

“But that’s what we make salad with,” your neighbors say. “No we don’t anymore,” you say. “From now on we’re calling them weeds, and we pull them out and throw them away. They make the grass look bad. And you don’t let animals graze on it, either. They’ll mess up the lawn.”

At this point your neighbors are lighting the torches and gathering up pitchforks to run you out of town, as well they should.


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7 Responses to “Existentialism and Lawn Care”

  1. Torrey Says:

    Think about it another way… lawns as a source of protein and meat. My lawn regularly attracts rabbits, large birds, dogs, etc. It’s like an urban salt-lick. Let the serfs tend to their beets. They will be lined up to trade a bushel for my rabit stew.

    Also, let’s consider the other strange traditions of the past: In Roman times, to be fat was a sign of wealth, because it meant that you ate a lot. In Victorian times (and earlier) extremely pale skin was prized as a sign that you did not have to work in the sun. So take it as such. I have this much land that I do not have to grow and tend to simple crops.

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