The moral imperative of good lawn care

I’ve lived without a lawn since leaving my parents’ home for college in 1981. I spent most of the subsequent years living in apartment buildings in urban environments, where the presence of grass meant the landlord needed to repave the driveway.

As a kid, a lawn meant a spiky, spongy green carpet that tickled my bare feet and stained the knees of my jeans during touch football games. It didn’t mean wrestling with weighty, emotionally fraught issues such as sexism, global warming, noise pollution, conspicuous consumption, pesticide use and the cardinal sin of sloth.

It started last spring, when we had to decide on how we were going to perform that most basic act of lawn care: mowing.

I say “we,” but what I really meant was “he,” my husband. Mowing the lawn was going to be his job. I would be too busy doing more girly things, like setting up the compost pile.

Because my husband was going to do most of the mowing, he needed to have the proper tools to do the job comfortably. And he was most comfortable with a rider mower.

I cringed. It seemed ostentatious. Rider mowers, I thought, were OK for somebody with a five-acre lawn. But our property? It wasn’t big enough. It seemed like overkill.

“OK,” my husband said, a hint of exasperation in his voice, “What kind of push mower?”

Suddenly, another psychological hurdle loomed into view. Should we buy a greenhouse-gas-spewing, noisy gasoline-powered one, or an expensive, electric mower? I envisioned my carbon footprints scorching the grass of my backyard, tongues of flame shooting from the soles of my boots. I thought of my brother-in-law, who cuts his little lawn with an old-fashioned four-blade push mower.

Then I thought of the size of our lawn. It’s about 10 times the size of his. How socially responsible was I going to go with this?

My husband looked at me darkly, worried that I was going to send him out into the yard armed only with a pair of scissors.

As I researched our options on the Internet, the grass grew. And grew. And grew. My husband was getting anxious. “What will the neighbors think?” he said, looking out the window at the lawn, roiling in the spring breeze like a field of wheat.

We finally settled on a gasoline-powered push mower. I figured the physical exertion would cancel out the environmental sins of fossil fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution.

Now came the moral psychology of fertilizing the lawn. That engendered even more dark nights of the soul for the two of us.

My husband wanted to blast the weeds with something, anything, to make them go away and to assuage his guilt over the way our purslane, crabgrass and dandelions were encroaching on the neighbors’ fairway-worthy lawn.

I lobbied for rooting out the weeds by hand, until I doffed a sun hat and some gloves, grabbed a little spade and settled in on weeding several dandelions that had sprouted in the cracks of our driveway. I spent five minutes on one dandelion before throwing in the trowel.

I tried dousing them with “environmentally friendly” copper spray. My sister suggested boiling water. Nothing doing. They thrived.

My high-minded resolve vanished. I tromped to the hardware store and bought Roundup — the most toxic, no-holds-barred weed killer out there — and sprayed the driveway with it. Within a week, the weeds curled up and disappeared like the dead Wicked Witch of the East in “The Wizard of Oz.”

My lawn has worn me out, and I’m not even the one mowing it.

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By Amy Eddings

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Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or on Twitter, @lima_eddings.