Your Evil Lawn
The other day, my wife saw our three cats in a circle staring at something in the yard. She and my stepson found that a rabbit doe – the one that seems to enjoy outrunning our cats – had just laid a litter of bunnies in a hole. The doe apparently finds a fenced yard with three big cats safer than the rest of the neighborhood. So my stepson puts a big bowl over the hole during the day, and takes it off at night. But we’ve told him: No more pets.
I grew up watching real and television Dads mow and weed their pristine lawns. In a dose of reality, I was once hit in the chest by a twisted old nail thrown from my Dad’s real gasoline-powered lawnmower. We later moved to an old farm, and he treated almost all seven acres like a big lawn, buying a small tractor to mow it, but hardly growing anything. Later I mowed, trimmed and weeded my own tiny lawns partly out of habit, and partly because the neighbors look at you disparagingly if you don’t. My latest lawn is a comparative disgrace because the soil is bumpy, full of shale, and often in shade.
Influenced by HGTV, my wife once suggested hardscapes would be a lot less work. Since we didn’t live in a desert, I preferred the green growing lawn, but now I am reading that aristocratic lawns are bad news. Healthy Land Ethic, which I found through various ScienceBlogs posts, recommends we go back to native prairie species:
Prairies – those critically endangered and complex ecosystems understood by few and misunderstood and destroyed by millions of people.
Lawns – those myopically obsessive (and evil) urban, suburban, and increasingly rural monoculture eyesores that displace native ecosystems at a rate between 5,000 and 385,000 acres per day* in favor of sterile, chemically-filled, artificial environments bloated with a tremendous European influence that provide no benefits over the long term; no food, no clean water, no wildlife habitat, and no foundation for preserving our once rich natural heritage. And there’s the unbearable ubiquitousness of mowing associated with such a useless cultural practice, which creates a ridiculous amount of noise pollution, air and water pollution, and a bustling busyness that destroys many peaceful Saturday mornings. The American lawn is the epitome of unsustainability.
In my defense, I did use a push mower, and later an electric mower. And I never laid down all the lye and chemicals that my Dad once used. In the Tyee, though, a discussion of potlatch turns to a practical consideration:
High-class Coast Salish families inherited rights to abundant salmon runs, and they consolidated wealth by marrying other elites. Heh goos — “head men” in the Tla’amin language — made decisions on when and how to fish, and their status was legitimized through the public ceremonies of the potlatch, when they gave away their wealth. The lower-class Coast Salish had little social mobility. Status, for the most part, was inherited and changes in the social hierarchy were rare. The lower class had a lot of incentive to cooperate with the wealthy. Soon after potlatches were outlawed in 1885, the chief of the Kwakwaka’wakw — ancestors of the tribes belonging to the Laich-Kwil-Tach Treaty Society — told anthropologist Franz Boas: “It is a strict law that bids us distribute our property among our friends and neighbours. It is a good law.”
Potlatches not only distributed wealth — a finite natural resource — they also distributed knowledge, which is not finite unless it gets lost. That’s always a danger, especially if it’s not written down. Washington is teary when she talks about knowledge disappearing. The Coast Salish way of living was hard won and will not easily be retrieved. “My Granny used to say something that I never quite understood until I got older,” Washington says. “She would look at expensive homes with manicured lawns and say, in our language, ‘Oh those poor people, they have no medicines or food in their yard. How are they going to feed themselves and take care of themselves if anything happens?'”