Splendor in the Grass-Revisited

_Casual Splendor in the GrassóRevisited In college, my friends and I used to debate the year that one was irretrievably, unqualifiedly, with no more excuses middle-aged. The age we finally settled...

...But at Oxford, it rains every day and averages 62 degrees in July...
...Well, there's only one thing I do whose consequences fall inescapably upon my community, and that is my care of my property...
...But that's the thing about middle age...
...You start them again after dinner and move them when the kids go to bed...
...This is of course the sort of thinking that used to lead intellectuals to condemn the emptiness of middle-class life...
...You cannot water a Washington lawn in the daytime: The water evaporates before it sinks below the surface...
...We hear a great deal about community nowadays...
...If my college self could somehow be introduced to my now middle-aged self, what would he think...
...They judge me, as they must, by what they can see, and nothing I do is quite as visible as my care of my lawn...
...Protecting my children from Love Canal-like toxins has turned out, however, to be the least of my agricultural responsibilities...
...No, not the kind you smoke...
...It was the most beautiful lawn I'd ever seen, thick and dewy and verdant...
...He had signed a multi-year contract with a local lawn-maintenance company, and once a month they slip a little card under the door itemizing the fertilizers and nutrients, the fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides, the antioxi-dants, deodorants, and antidepres-sants they have applied over the past four weeks...
...I'd grown up in Canada...
...More than anything, I imagine, he would be startled by how much of my time I spend thinking about grass...
...Endlessly...
...The age we finally settled on was 37...
...I'm glad to have them all...
...When my wife and I bought our house in Washington, the first house we'd ever owned, one of its principal attractions was its lawn...
...In between the time the snow melts and the time the autumn rains start, you need to water a lawn maybe six or eight timesóno trouble fitting that into a busy schedule...
...You wake up at dawn to start the sprinklers, move them at 7:30, and then turn them off when it's time to take the kids to school...
...It was the previous owner's pride and joy, and as we concluded the deal, he solemnly enjoined me to take good care of it...
...Suddenly I found myself paying $600-a-month summertime electric bills...
...The kind you water and mow...
...If I lived next door to him, so would I. I volunteered for the job of taking care of this grass, just as I volunteered for every other responsibility in my life...
...I bought short pants for the first time since 1981...
...My neighbors would call him a slob...
...The people amongst whom I live, my neighbors, aren't interested in my interior life...
...And here I am...
...That seemed easy enough...
...And in certain precise ways...
...You realize: Actually, there isn't more to life than this...
...He had many severe things to say about marriage, raising your kids, and paying your taxes, too...
...Slater called himself a "social critic...
...Sometimes they leave behind a little yellow tag on a stick, pushed into the grass, helpfully suggesting we keep the children off it for the next 24 hours...
...I had a vague memory of my father moving the sprinkler around the yard on Sundays, and he never seemed over-burdened by the job...
...It's not a task...
...Sometimes I contemplate slackening my standards and letting my inherited greensward turn a little brown...
...I bought a straw hat...
...You know, on the whole I'm surprisingly happy to be 37...
...So it must be watered all the time...
...Slater had many severe things to say about lawns...
...The blend of grasses in my lawn, I'm told, is almost exactly the same as that of the famous lawns of Oxford University...
...And I began devoting my life to the upkeep of my lawn...
...Sometimes I calculate the cost of installing built-in sprinklers that can be controlled with a timer...
...It didn't take me long to learn that the reason my lawn looked so lovely was that the previous owner had been saturating it with enough chemicals to poison a small town...
...If I fail it, I fail them...
...I remember reading as a student one of the earliest of those critics, Philip Slater, who published The Pursuit of Loneliness in 1970...
...David Frum...
...If I maintain it well, I'm doing my duty by my neighbors...
...Sometimes I wonder whether there isn't more to life than this...
...We are trying to keep our Oxford lawn alive in a city that lies on the same latitude as Palermo...
...Then I moved to Vietnam-on-the-Potomac...
...It's a calling...
...Sometimes I think about replacing the whole thing with a rock garden...

Vol. 2 • July 1997 • No. 43


 
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