Sunday, September 05, 2010

Lawn Art

I mowed my lawn yesterday.

Well, sort of.

I didn't do the whole yard (which is 4.5 acres), just the part in front of the house, which is big enough. And I didn't so much mow it as kind of sculpt it.

My problem--and the reason (excuse?) my lawn is usually so extensively unmowed--is that I'm really deeply aware of my yard as habitat. I'm pretty sure my neighbors look at my big expanse of waving weeds and grasses and see a mess. I look at it, and see a home for the leaf-hoppers and crickets and the azure and orange butterflies I love; a soft spot where bunnies rest and dine; the little shady nest where the neighbor's cat likes to sleep on sunny days. Those waving weeds serve a purpose for someone, and in that, they are of value to me. So I'm sensitive about that and it bothers me to make so many creatures inconvenienced and homeless, especially since I live out in the country and my lawn is kind of hidden from the road so most likely no one living near me knows or cares if I've mowed it or not. Destruction of habitat for ... what, exactly? The weird suburban American predilection for "natural" environments that are tightly controlled?

the west 40
Another problem lies in my dominant interest in looking at everything, especially everything that grows. This has two effects. The first is that it makes me a very slow mower. When I'm riding around on my lawn tractor, I'm not zipping along feeling the wind in my hair like my funny neighbor. I'm treating it more like an intimate tour of my own yard, so I go a lot slower than I have to, and I look. And unlike the guy who owned my house before me, I'm not looking down at my own pecs thinking what a stud I am, I'm looking at the ground, at the plants I'm rolling by and at the grasshoppers and moths and butterflies and damselflies scooting away from the noise and trauma of the mower. I'm also looking closely for snakes, not because I'm worried about them but because I'm worried for them ... I would hate to hit a little snake with the lawn mower, and if they're the size of the one I found in my garage not too long ago, only close inspection of the ground will prevent such a tragedy.

The second effect is, as a slow-and-looky-mower, I see a lot of things that are interesting to me. And when I spot an unusually-formed or -colored plant, I immediately want to photograph it, find out what it is, learn all about it, see where it goes from where it is. Will those tiny white blossoms always stay tiny, even if the plant gets taller? And what are those little purple starlike things, will they turn into blooms or just fall away?

yard mohawk
The end result is, I kind of give my lawn a bit of a haircut more than a mow. It has something of a mohawk at one point (lots of interesting little flowers and so many pretty butterflies who flew out of it when I went motoring by, clearly a little island of important green on my somewhat scraggy lawn), and sideburns and a couple of places you might consider ear hair (more interesting plants). An ordinary person might think of it as a home maintenance fail, but I'm an artist, and in the spirit of Mierele Laderman Ukeles, I'm declaring that everything I do is art, is art. Including my yard, which now qualifies as land art. So it's not Spiral Jetty, exactly, but I'm not Robert Smithson. It all works out in the end.

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