He Toils Not, Neither Does He Sow

Suddenly, the grass in my front yard has ended its winter hibernation. Green blades that were tired and scruffy just a few weeks ago are now robust, stretching taller almost by the hour. My free time, already limited, is now in serious jeopardy. Another season of lawn care has begun.

This is a subject that can generate intense debate about a homeowner's aesthetic values, work habits, outdoor skills, and self-esteem. A big lawn has become the jewel in the crown of American suburban life. So when friends learn that I have a minimalist philosophy, reactions range from simple curiosity to nervous confusion.

Let me assure everyone that my attitude is based solely on practical considerations. In the proper location, I think a wide expanse of natural green turf is quite wonderful. Golf tournaments, football games, and elegant garden parties are all greatly enhanced by a ground cover of lush grass. However, none of those events will ever be held at my domicile.

So my lawn is primarily ornamental. It's like having a huge, flat pet lying beside the house, demanding to be groomed and fed, but offering no affection in return. As a responsible occupant of the neighborhood, I try to keep it neatly maintained. However, since many of the procedures have become politically charged, my efforts can result in both intellectual and physical fatigue.

Mowing is a good example. I use a gasoline- powered machine, which causes air and noise pollution. If I were truly committed to helping the environment, a push mower would be more appropriate. But as a person who spent his entire youth huffing and puffing and cutting the family lawn with a clunky old antique, I feel entitled to a few more years of engine-powered assistance.

Still, I'm not insensitive to the issue. Each year, I trim away a bit more of the turf while tidying up the edges. As the lawn gets smaller, the amount of time spent mowing will also decrease, which should reduce the emission of noise and petroleum vapors.

After each mowing is completed, the issue of waste disposal must be addressed. I happen to think a Nobel Prize is waiting for the person who invents a process for recycling grass clippings into something useful, like lawn furniture. Luckily, I have a small weekly harvest.

Occasionally, a lawn-service representative will call me and offer to revitalize the appearance of my grass by adding chemicals, and killing off the clover and dandelions. I politely inform each caller that in my yard, we celebrate diversity.

In the long run, my goal is to end up with a little patch of turf that can be trimmed with a pair of scissors. I'm not sure how the neighbors will react. But when they see me relaxing on the porch every weekend instead of pushing a dusty, noisy, mower back and forth, I suspect they'll turn green with envy.

* Jeffrey Shaffer, a freelance writer, lives and mows in Portland, Ore.

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