Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Green Grass, Pesticides and Spring: Revery and Rain Are What's Needed to Provide a Small Savannah Fix

Overnight the grass is green! After 10 days of unseasonably lovely weather, trees and bushes around here were leafing out, but the grass in most places remained sere and sparse until this morning. The difference was a day of steady rain, it would appear. Suddenly the streets are lined with achingly green lawns and the parks look absolutely delectable.

The lift our spirits get from green grass is probably hard wired into our brains. Back in the eons when we were evolving on the East African savannah, short cropped green grass meant grazing animals that would be good hunting. Water would be nearby too, and so would various roots and other plants for gathering. Our ancestors who preferred that kind of landscape fared better than people who didn’t, and so left more descendants. The landscape preference is as innate as is that of birds who can tell from the air what lake, marshland or grove would be good for nesting. We of course can override that preference and choose other kinds of landscapes to live in, but the fact that people all over the world strive to reproduce that savannah landscape on a small scale is eloquent evidence of how we are shaped by what was good for our ancestors as we evolved.

For a good analysis of what that desire for green grass has meant in North America, check out “The Grassman - Can John Greenlee do away with the lawn?” by Wade Graham that appeared more than 10 years ago in The New Yorker. Since then, efforts have begun to spread to undo some of the ravages of lawns where green grass isn’t appropriate. Quebec outlawed the domestic use of pesticides and herbicides a couple of years ago, while Ontario has just announced it will be doing the same.

As for our own small garden: I dug up the lawn over a couple of summers, beginning more than 15 years ago. That was when I began to get static from the designated lawnmowers, who were becoming raging adolescents at the time. The annuals which replaced the grass are more interesting anyway, and provide a constantly changing landscape of flowers and interesting levaes. What’s left of the grass is a small arc in the back which I can mow in five minutes. The patch is just enough to provide a small savannah fix, as in the Emily Dickinson poem:

“To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few. “

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