RICHMOND — Not long after we had a lawn to mow, my brother came to visit. He looked at the mowed strip around the garden and the field of tall grasses beyond and asked, “Why don’t you mow all the way to the woods?”
The basic answer was “because we don’t want to,” but I don’t remember what diversionary reply was actually given. No one fights about a lawn, right?
Actually, only a couple of years before that, close friends in a Boston suburb were taken aback when their neighbors presented them with the funds they’d collected so our friends would hire someone to mow their grass, apparently about 6 to 8 inches tall at that point. Neither half of this couple was about to push a lawn mower, but they were mortified to think anyone thought they were too poor to get it done.
We have always enjoyed the field. Lawns don’t ripple in the breeze, but tall grass does. And the deer come to graze, sometimes bedding down near the woods, matting the grass. Small birds, like goldfinches and indigo buntings, can actually perch on a single blade, and many birds find lunch in the field. They feed on the lawn, too, not just the robins that tug out worms, but bluebirds that dip down to grab an insect.
Years ago, when Frannie Bartlett mowed our field, he stopped to tell us he’d left a stand of milkweed for the monarch butterflies, which considered that plant their favorite food. We hadn’t really thought about the monarchs, but patches of milkweed are spared every year now, their high-flying seeds planting themselves in flower beds as well. And more monarchs come every summer.
Right now, at least from a distance, my lawn looks like a real lawn, just like the ones advertising fertilizers and bug killers and special grass seed. But, it’s not real. It’s made up of some grass, lots of plantain weeds, a ton of white clover, plenty of a flowering weed that travels underground faster than a vole, dandelions and ground-hugging thyme.
Unfertilized, no pesticides, bare patches ignored. And both the environment and my credit card have benefited. Perfect lawns are pricey, considering the annual expense in the United States for 200 million gallons of gas for mowers. Add on use of 3 trillion gallons of water a year, and the cost of 70 million pounds of pesticides.
We once had neighbors who were on their knees for hours, digging out dandelions one after another. Across the road in an unmowed field, thousands of dandelions annually turned from yellow to little white puffs of seed. Nature gets the win. Instead, a solution of vinegar, salt and dishwashing soap, according to the internet, can kill weeds and can be sprayed on them just like the much-advertised toxic chemical that has a long life in the soil.
These days, lots of people ask me why I mow the lawn. The answer is, “I like it.”
When the children were small, and we had only a self-propelled push mower, I loved doing it — I could not hear if they yelled for me, nor could I hear the phone. And when finished, it looked so nice, much more satisfactory than vacuuming a rug. I could see the difference — and naturally green.