Anyone who has not yet read Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life should immediately stop reading this silly blog and locate the nearest copy, reading it cover to cover at least once. It is a remarkably entertaining account of the origins of many of modern life’s little details. He takes us through an average home, analyzing the details in various rooms and tracing their evolution back through history. But what I want to point out here is a story that takes place just outside the back door of the home: the lawn.
Until reading At Home, I had never considered why we insist on having pristine plots of green in front and around every freestanding home. There is no dietary or medical use for the grass, it does not scare off pests or thieves, it is not neccessarily the prettiest of plants. So why do we go to so much trouble planting, watering, maintaining these yards? Bryson explains it in At Home in his usual delightful manner, pointing out the ridiculous reasons, namely, those I just mentioned. A lawn of grass is totaly impracticable. That’s the point. The first lawns were status symbols for the very rich; a way of flaunting the fact that one needn’t garden in every available square foot, that you had enough excess wealth to waste on pointless, fruitless tracks of land. In short, they were a dumb idea.
I still think they are. I’ve lived in a couple lower middle-class neighborhoods and am always amazed how much time and money people waste on yards they’re never actually in. All my neighbors own expensive riding mowers, have weed killer sprayed like rain twice a year, spend hours looking miserable up-keeping their lawns. But they are NEVER in them. I spend at least an hour in yard every sunny day, often more, and have never seen anyone in the twenty yards in my view spend more than five minutes enjoying their yards. Sure they mow twice a week whether or not it needs it, but always look dismal and can’t wait to escape back inside.
Our yard stands out, simply because it’s practical. It is full of dandelions, wild mint, apple trees. I have a fire pit with surronding seats, a little playground, there’s an island in the stream where you catch frogs, and most importantly, several gardens. I have no excess wealth to flaunt, and why should waste space that could be used to produce delicious fruits, veggies, teas, and herbs. I don’t know why, in time when our culture is so obsessed with recessions and obesity, more people don’t garden. It’s remarkably cheap, healthy, and is accompanied with a dose of healthy pride, as it’s something only humans do.
When the writers of Genesis needed a term to describe the original paradise, they did not choose ocean or city, they chose garden. Any green thumb will tell you this was no accident, for there are few things that can bring a man closer to God than playing in the dirt, and watching things grow. (Now I’ll point out that I’ve always had a profound appreciation for flower gardens, but as James Donald says in The Great Escape, “You can’t eat flowers,” so I still prefer produce.)
I have the good fortune to garden in the bread basket of America, so in my yard one only needs to spit out some watermelon seeds during a family barbeque and the next day you’ll find a magical watermelon kingdom has sprung up on your lawn, complete with dozens of melons the size of fairy-tale carriages. You might not have my soil, but unless your yard is pure sand, ice, or moon rock, I guarantee you gardening will be easier than you think. Play in the dirt! Oh, and make sure to spit some seeds at your neighbors too, just for luck. That is, of course, if they’re outside, which they never are.