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Peterson: Grass grows despite attempts to tame it

Published: Friday, May 9, 2014 12:19 a.m. CDT

The snow shovels can be put away, but the mowers need to be revved up.

And with the sure arrival of spring and winter in the distant rearview mirror, it is time for lawns to be mowed for the next six months.

Lawn mowing is a thankless job, and it’s one of the reasons you have kids: to turn the mower over to them. Little do they appreciate it, there’s nothing quite like a freshly mown lawn. The sweet smell of grass. The uniform height. The absence of dandelion heads. The tracks of wheels, row after row.

Then it grows. Uncontrollably.

You would think after all these years they would have developed a grass that stops growing after two inches and remains just so for the rest of spring and all of summer.

But, no, it grows and grows and grows. Municipalities pass ordinances that require you to cut your grass because it grows so much. If you don’t cut it, you could be fined. Money. That’s serious business. That’s how much we – as residents of Woodstock, for instance – like mown lawns.

Anything less is not tolerated by force of law.

Twenty-five years ago when I was living in Harvard, there was a man who took a dim view to mowing his lawn. Instead, he mowed walking paths through his yard and called it landscape art. His neighbors took a dim view toward his walking paths and complained to city hall about him.

He was cited by city inspectors for allowing his grass to grow too long. They didn’t buy the artsy walkways. Rather than be intimidated, he took his lawn to the City Council, and aldermen spent considerable time that summer deciding whether he was being artsy or lazy.

I walked the paths and found them to be soothing. Aldermen took the dim view, too, calling his lawn a breeding ground for mosquitoes, a contention he disagreed with. Mosquitoes like standing water, not long grass.

The anti-mosquito argument won the day, and the man was told he must mow his entire lawn or face the consequences. He mowed his lawn. A defeat for art. A victory for consequences.

If only we had two-inch grass.

Botanists or agronomists should be able to genetically engineer a grass that knows when to stop growing. All sorts of plants stop growing at a certain height. Why not grass?

But I think the lawn mower lobby is too strong for that. How else do you think it withstood the study that concluded one hour of lawn mowing produced as much air pollution as a car driving 650 miles? I’m not sure if I buy that, but that’s a lot of smog.

Push reel lawn mowers have been around for nearly 200 years, invented by a guy in England, according to the amazing Internet. What an invention that was. England has its beautiful sculpted gardens, and tending to the grass was a problem.

You either let sheep graze in them, thus making you a shepherd, or you got your scythe out. The scythe is hardly a tool for the fainthearted. It’s the tool of the grim reaper if you have ever noticed what he was carrying in the pictures.

The grim reaper isn’t pushing a lawn mower; he has a scythe, ready to cut you down with one fell swoop. And that’s what people used to mow their lawns.

I don’t yearn for the good old days. The scythe has a long curved blade and a handle with a grip. You use it standing up, making sweeping motions over the grass that is to be cut. I actually had a scythe for a while, mostly for decoration, but I tried it out on grass and was quickly worn down by it.

But the reel mowers, which were patented in the United States after the Civil War, were – and are – no walk in the park. It took a motor for that to happen. And this is the 100th anniversary of the gasoline-powered lawn mower, manufactured by Power Mower Co. of Lansing, Mich., according to Wikipedia, my go-to source for irrelevant and inconsequential information.

Man has mastered the machine, but not the grass. It continues to grow unabated throughout the summer, and we can only hope for drought-like conditions in August to give us a break, as grass goes dormant without a regular fresh supply of water. I used to pine for those days when I was tasked with mowing.

I’m ready for genetically engineered grass that leaves us with a perfect lawn. Not only would it cut down on pollution – both air and noise – but it would add to our quality of life. The lawn mower needs to meet the grim reaper.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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