In a world where financial crisis meets political dysfunction, children die of disease by millions, and Syria bombs its own cities, perhaps this is not the gravest concern — but, what is up with all this lawn fetishism?
I have a lovely outdoor lounge chair in which I love to lounge, enjoying the sun while it shines, often scribbling draft blog posts, but, alas, rarely undisturbed by the high decibel buzz of powered lawn mowers. It seems I am surrounded on all sides by neighbors for whom an acceptable grass height must be about half an inch – judging by how incessantly they deem it necessary to mow. (In the fall, we get the leaf blowers, which are even worse.) I almost count it a blessing if, at a given moment, there aren’t two or more of these contraptions roaring away. (And, if all goes quiet, I sit up and notice the strangeness.)
Perhaps these people actually relish lawn mowing, as recreation, though to me that seems a perversion. One neighbor likes to do it topless. Surely there is something sexual here. (No, it’s a man, alas.)
The human attraction to a lawn’s verdant green color is readily explicable from an evolutionary standpoint. Certainly our distant forebears were genetically programmed to gravitate toward greenery, with its inherent lush promise of nourishment, and to shun the dun hues indicative of aridity and famine. But it hardly bears stating that in the modern context, a green lawn is quite irrelevant to one’s food security. Yet still we ascribe to our lawns an almost talismanic import, we treat any lapse in greenness as ill-omened, and hence coddling our lawns becomes akin to a religious devotion. It’s almost as absurd as belief in God.
And it’s not without cost. I’m not referring merely to direct expenditures on lawn maintenance. One hour of gas-powered mowing produces as much air pollution as four hours of car driving (and way more noise pollution). U.S. lawn mowing globbles up 580 million gallons of gasoline annually, contributing to our overall energy problems. Furthermore, while lawns were invented in England where a rainy climate obviated any need for watering, in dryer America we expend considerable precious water resources to quench the thirst of the little green monsters. The typical American suburban lawn consumes 10,000 gallons of water annually (over and above rainwater); and lawns take up over 30% of total U.S. water usage!
And what do you call a bird run over by a lawn mower? Shredded tweet. In fact, lawns are green vales of death for untold millions of insects and other small and sometimes cuddlier wildlife, that do get literally shredded, and squashed, as well as poisoned by all the toxic chemicals we dump on our lawns. It’s practically genocide.
Finally, lawns soak up not only gasoline and water but untold millions of man-hours that could otherwise be devoted to more productive or edifying pursuits. Just imagine if all the time that Americans lavish on lawn mowing were instead spent learning something by reading books like The Case for Rational Optimism.
I confess myself not completely innocent, though I pay someone else to perform the ritual, and as infrequently as I can get away with. I’d just as soon pave the damn thing over, replace it with a Japanese stone garden, or cacti, or a gnome army, just so long as it does not require infernal mowing. But my missus has some say in the matter.
Meantime, as if the noise pollution of lawn zealotry were not enough, one of my neighbors likes to cut not only his grass, but his trees, using a chainsaw. Call me a grumpy old man, but shouldn’t there be a law? I’m as libertarian as they come, but it’s axiomatic that my freedom to swing my fist ends at your nose. Shouldn’t my neighbor’s right to rrrrRRRrrrrRRR end at my ear drum?
As Garrison Keillor once remarked, if one’s purpose in life is to serve other people, then what purpose is served by the existence of those other people? In my neighborhood, it seems their purpose is to serve their little green masters. And, as Jean-Paul Sartre once remarked, “Hell is other people.”