Tag Archives: grass

mowing is like vacuuming…

I don’t have many opportunities to mow the lawn. I’ve basically told John that the day he can’t keep up with the grass will be the day I break into the Monsanto factory and abscond with all the Roundup they have and then apply it to the lawn. There’s lots of other ways I’d rather use the space.

The day has come. John had some work done on a foot and will be hobbling around for a couple months. The grass, however, well-watered from the January and February rains, didn’t stop growing, and it was time to have the conversation.

Well, in the end, I’m embarrassed to say that I caved, reasoning that he should be back to pushing the mower around in a few weeks, and now isn’t the best season to think of planting something that will require water to keep it going through the dry summer and fall ahead. Besides, John really likes his little patch of lawn, and he lets me have my way with most of the rest of the garden.

So I popped some allergy tablets and pulled out the electric mower and headed for the patch of grass. Back and forth I went over the browning green surface. Back and forth, back and forth. It’s weirdly meditative, like vacuuming, I decided, only with a device that can chop off your toes.

My diverse lawn

As I took down the seed heads it was a chance to look at this what we call a lawn. It’s never been a fanatically maintained piece of green, and features little colonies of Saint Augustine, Bermuda, rye, clover and whatever other species the wind has delivered. The biological diversity of this patch would do the Amazon proud and drive any single-species lawn fanatic to distraction.

The cat, last fall, shaking off the thatch from the lawn. This is inside the house, of course.

By mid-summer it’ll go mostly brown as we cut back on watering to continue with our water conservation. At that point, facing four to six months of brown, four to six months of thatch being tracked into the house every time you walk across the garden, that’ll be when we might continue our discussion with whether we might want to do something else with this patch of prime garden real estate.

Whatever we decide, you can rest assured that we will not be installing the plastic turf that’s getting to be a popular garden surface around town. In fact, I like that stuff so little I’ve started my very first Facebook group, Plastic Turf Must Die!!!!!! As far as I’m concerned fardens are about life and growing things, and this stuff is as dead and cheesy as anything out there. If you’re any sort of joiner and hate the stuff yourself, join the group!

a vacant house

There’s a house across that street that is looking like it’s turning into a victim of the current mortgage fiasco. The owner bought at the top of the home valuations and probably expected prices to keep growing.

House for sale
House for sale
When no one had seen the main owner for weeks we were starting to think that things weren’t quite right over there. A month ago a mortgage broker’s sign appeared in front of the house, then someone with the city came by to shut off the water. Seeing all this happening confirmed our worst fears.

Since life here in the desert can’t exist without supplemental water, the last time a house sat vacant on our street one of the neighbors kept it watered while another mowed the lawn. With that situation fresh in John’s memory, he cornered the neighbor across the street and struck a deal. Between the two of them they’d tend the house until a new owner could move in, doing what they can to keep up the neighborhood.

Parking strip, mowed
Parking strip, mowed
At some point the water got restored to the house, and so the yard was getting water. But no one was taking care of the mowing.

Enter John and the neighbor. Now, whenever one of them has a mower out, the parking strip along the sidewalk gets a quick haircut.

Gone to seed
Gone to seed
Unfortunately, the yard inside the gates is going feral, but at least we can’t see it so easily. This was difficult-to-maintain landscaping put in by non-gardeners and only tended by hired help. Once the gardeners left, entropy started to claim the inner yard. (John’s and the neighbor’s commitment to keeping up the neighborhood for free go only so far. And by now you may gather my general shrill attitude towards maintaining expansive lawns in the desert…)

The last word is that the house has been sold. Who bought it, when they’ll move it, who they are–all that’s still the grand mystery that these transactions so often are. These deals can fall through any time.

After you live in a neighborhood for a while you get to experience good neighbors and neighbors from the other side of hell. The last ones in this house were some of the good ones–personable, friendly, interesting and tolerant, and we’re sad to see them go. As we head in for another round in this game of new neighbor roulette, we’re keeping our fingers crossed for reasonable ones again.

chemistry, physics, biology

Here’s a cool artwork by Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey that was featured at the recent Wimbledon tennis-thing. It’s made of three panels of grass.

Wimble grass art

The sections were grown in a darkened space under artificial lights that projected through photographic negatives. The brighter the exposure, the richer the green color.

It’s the reverse principle at work as leaving a hose or board on your lawn for a week: When you pick up the hose or board you can see how the grass grew pale where it was deprived of sunlight.

So what would you call this art process? It’s basically using light to effect a transformation of some kind of material, and that’s pretty much the definition of photography.

Photography’s first revolution was the ability to use chemical processes to fix an image made by light–think of the photographer disappearing into a darkroom with some unpromising plates or film and coming back with a magical image. Then the physics of turning light sensors into electrical impulses made chemistry-free imaging possible, leading to things like television cameras and your cellphone camera.

And now comes this process where the recording device is biological. Of course, relying on something living and growing, the result is anything but permanent, but that’s also one of the nice things about the pieces. Nothing lasts forever.

The grass artwork reminds me of Dennis Oppenheim’s brilliant 1970 photographic performance, Reading Position for Second Degree Burn, where he leaves a book on his chest as the exposed parts of him sunburn on the beach. The first picture shows him at the beginning, with the book. In the second, hours later with the book removed, a sunburn describes the area where the book protected him.

Dennis Oppenheim Reading Position for Second Degree BurnDennis Oppenheim. Reading Position for Second Degree Sunburn. Chromogenic prints with applied text.

It’s just as much a “biological photograph” as the Wimbledon piece. While the grass piece stuns most in its execution, the Oppenheim piece, coming out of conceptual art, buzzes with ideas and humor.

Next time you come back from the beach with untanned patches where your swimsuit shaded your body, why not consider yourself a walking photograph?

[ Thanks to Landscape+Urbanism, where I first saw the Wimbledon grass pieces, and to Creative Review, where I’ve linked. ]