Unquiet Spirit of a Flower

With our big across-town move less than a week away now, I’m thinking of things that I will not miss about this house: the stinkbugs, the box elder bugs, the colonies of wasps, the ants, the mice, the family of starlings living in the chimney – those are all within the house or just outside it. But one thing I will also not miss is the yard, also known not-so-affectionately as The Invasive Species Jungle. To use the term yard for this place is a misnomer, as it’s more like a few rebel blades of grass battling it out with all manner of weeds and saplings and other scaries. Apart from its sheer size and the subsequent mowing challenges, I just don’t really understand the American fascination with The Lawn.  The compulsion to have a pristine, manicured, tidy carpet of green. One that requires constant attention to keep it pristine. One that can’t fully be enjoyed because of all the chemicals required to maintain that pristine-ness. I’m sure the neighbors see the ‘for rent’ sign out front and hope that some new tenants will remove the blight on the neighborhood landscape that is this yard. This has to be the Year of the Dandelion too, some strange convergence of the absolute right conditions for it to proliferate more than I ever thought possible.

Here I feel much kinship with Robert Wright in his recent blog post from the New York Times. And I am remembering back to one particular composition course at Iowa State, when we read Michael Pollan’s wonderful essay, “Why Mow?” (also from the NYT). For some reason, this one piece engaged students more than any other that I have ever taught. For their assignment that week, they were asked to write an argument against Pollan, one in favor of the lawn. The responses were creative and generally pretty amazing. One student wrote his entire piece from the perspective of the lawn itself. Another employed Jonathan Swift-like satire successfully. After all these years, I still have copies of some of their pieces. But I still wonder what exactly it is about the idea of a lawn that inspired them so, what touched such a nerve by Pollan’s suggestion that maybe we don’t need lawns.

Me, I’m looking forward to having the tiniest slip of grass, one that will take minutes instead of hours to take care of. And I won’t miss you one bit, you jungle masquerading as a yard. Though The Girls will miss it, at least all the dandelions. Because to them, this jungle is a sea of beautiful *flowers* just waiting to be picked.


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