Long Green Claws

Harry Drabik

I underwent a natural transformation from enjoyment of a small patch of backyard grass to dread of its larger suburban all-around-the-house lawn. Grass, my parent’s lawn, had me in its talon grip. In a new mining town with no trees to shade it grass was bound to grow well. With lots of water, mother’s contribution, and regular visits by our fertilizer spreader, dad’s input, our lawn was a thick lush Kentucky Blue masterpiece. I suspected my parents were prouder of that lawn than of me, though I was appreciated (meaning tasked) for its upkeep. Thriving like a malevolent green cancer the lawn required twice, sometimes thrice, weekly clips followed by clipping and raking that sucked down to the marrow of a boy’s day. And heavens curse the aftermath of a prolonged growth promoting rain.

If ours had been the sort of lawn where you could get up some speed and breeze along it might not have been as bad. But woe, our yard was an obstacle course of new planted trees, circular front rock garden with flag pole, and a strawberry mound out back. Well over a dozen hurdles challenged the mower and me. Previously I appreciated the color green as restful No more; it was now the shade of a cursed life. I discovered the evil side green grass when absentmindedly, a condition that ran strong in my teens and lasted; well maybe it never left, I hurriedly mowed in a pair of new low-cut tennis shoes. It took days of effort to get 95% of the stain out. The remainder refused. Not wanting to make that mistake again I determined to mow barefoot and ended up with emerald green feet to make any Irish proud or envious. Father, a mine safety officer, had a fit over that, but as no steel toed safety sneakers were available I snuck by (so to speak) as best I could. I imagine you might ask why I didn’t mow using my old sneakers. For one they no longer fit and two my vigilant mother got rid of “those old things” at first opportunity.

It was an awful transformation going from love of green and natural to raw red hatred of any hint of ideal growing conditions. Being chained to a lawn (perhaps the parental purpose all along) kept me usefully occupied instead of letting me ramble off to fish, snoop, and find such mischief as I was able. If two parental lawn deities could bind a boy to green devotions that acolyte could break free by switching to a different cult. Soon as could be managed I took a job at a summer camp where living in the woods meant no lawn to water, feed, or mow. I was free and as far as I was concerned never needed to see another lawn or touch a mower again. But freedom from lawn chores wasn’t without other bonds. Having plenty other tasks to do I was actually less able to wet a line than before. So, my escape route proved imperfect, but at least I’d no longer look like a boy with feet so green he looked like he was being devoured by a disease of pond slime.

In my mind, then, not having to mow was a positive good. I further contended myself thinking grass wasn’t really natural as nature intended. Teenage contradiction is not troubling to the adolescent brain. Not a great many years later when I left the U in hope of starting my own life one of the things I much appreciated was not having a lawn to care for. I never saw any college student move in or out of a dorm with a mower. In my view being mower-less was the only proper way of life. In my new situation I had no problem having a front yard of boulders, bugle weed, and wild roses. Besides, it was under snow most of the year and of no concern.

But things change don’t they? I made improvements to the little house shared with legions of bats, shrews, and mice. Changes made to heating meant I was able to keep my feet on the floor in February without risking frostbite. But basically I outgrew that little place and wanted a fresh start in a new house with me inside and the vermin out. When done the result reminded me of the new mining town house of my youth, and a mortal dread of lawn crept over me like a Freddy curse on Halloween night. As luck had it, about the time I was trembling with lawn fright the State on MN had a plan where it would help people naturalize green space instead of having a nasty resource wasting lawn. For me THE selling point was having no lawn. Plus the plan was State approved and partially funded. What could be amiss?

The thing about good ideas; they look good. I got happily onboard with brining in and spreading suitable soil that reminded me of the muskeg dealt with as a child. But this time the labor would be worth it because when done I’d have a wonderful field of natural flowers and no need for a mower. It would bore you no doubt if I listed the thousands of plants that were stuffed into little holes and the watered and watered and watered to a degree that felt an awful lot like watering a lawn. The result failed to impress or please. First year somewhere over 1,000 hardy Brown Eyed Susan went in and were never seen more. Second year a greater batch of Brown Eyes went in on the theory that the first plants weren’t hardy. Neither was the second batch. None, along with a great many other flowering plants, survived.

What grew? I had lovely dandelion, much thistle, bed straw grass, some columbine (but not the one native to N MN), multitudes of yarrow, and a splash of volunteer wild rose. This was nasty, not natural. Buying a used mower I felt a field of trimmed weeds was natural enough for me.