We have sailed right through the spring equinox, and heading perilously toward the summer solstice. This is the season to which so many look forward. Warmer temperatures, emergence of new vegetation, and the final melting of that grey sludge that forms on the curbs of cities in the northeast.
Weather reporters tout the beauty of spring with its explosion of color and scent. Gone are the overcast days of winter and its associated doldrums. We are all supposed to feel cheerier, more optimistic, and ready for the promise of summer.
To spring, I say “Bah Humbug!” No, I don’t suffer from seasonal allergies or other respiratory difficulties that afflict a large portion of the population. However, there are two things about spring that make me somewhat less sanguine about its arrival. I hate the damn pollen, not because I have allergies, but because of the mess it brings. Here in Atlanta spring heralds the arrival of a gold patina that covers everything out of doors, as well as indoors if you happened to accidentally leave a window open. And what is the main culprit? Good old fashioned pine trees. Most likely Pinus palustris (longleaf pine) the slash pine (Pinus elliottii) or my personal favorite, the loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). Yes, I am aware that pollen is quintessential to plant reproduction, but really.
One of the pleasing characteristics of spring are the frequent showers. Unlike the old saying, I am not interested in May flowers, but cleaning the yellow pine sperm from my car and everything else that is outside. Yes, you can blame male pine trees for the copious quantities of sperm spewed into the air. The only good news, as I see it, is that pine trees are not responsible for most allergies and associated respiratory discomfort. Blame the grasses and flowering plants.
Pine pollen is only one fleeting symbol of my intense dislike for spring. Why pessimism for a season that so many love? For years and years I bought into the American Dream and associated home ownership. Like so many others, spring signaled the beginning of yard work. Not just a single clean up, but the ongoing drudgery of the never-ending yardwork. Yardwork was an activity that consumed weekends from March to November. Work all week at your job and heaven forbid that you might have a day of rest…no, the yard calls. To add insult to injury we make more work for ourselves by fertilizing our 0.25 acre (1,200 ft2) tract of green grass. We plant flowers and plants that require watering, have special pH or basic nutritional needs, require constant pruning, and other types of time-consuming, brain numbing, back breaking work.
This obsession with yards and green lawns has a long and distinguished history in the US, and is a cultural trait that persists, is amplified, and is passed on to the next generation. In the words of Richard Dawkins, we have a lawn meme. This meme is fueled by massive advertising, illusion, peer-pressure and misplaced competition. We have bought into the idea that every home needs a lush green lawn to be complete. We are told in television ads by an irritating actor that we can’t have bare spots on our lawns lest we be scorned by our neighbors. We have to dethatch our lawns, rake them and remove vegetative detritus, fertilize them, spray toxic chemicals on any plant growing in an inappropriate spot (a weed), mow with an electric or gasoline powered mower (when was the last time you saw someone moving with an old fashioned reel-type push mower?), and trim the edges with similarly powered machines. And after we have done all that we have to clean up our mess by blowing grass clippings into the street or onto a neighbor’s yard with a leaf blower.
The real costs of our obsession with lawns will be the topic of a forthcoming blog, but it is substantial. We go so far as the rank the lawns in our neighborhoods and award and “Best Lawn” award to the poor bastard who is married to his lawn. In my opinion, lawns are useless affectations that are supposed to advertise our wealth and property. For almost nine months a year we don’t take the time to rest and relax from our increasingly complex work and family schedules.
Liberate yourself. Concrete your yard and paint it green, or better yet don’t do anything and let nature take over. Be prepared, however, some neighbors who don’t appreciate your au natural surroundings and will complain. I say let ‘em. Take back your time off and enjoy yourself. Oh, some of you may say that you enjoy yard work. Perhaps, it is not that you enjoy yard work, but it is best of a set of bad options. Just sayin’.