The first job my mother ever held involved plucking hundreds of dandelions by their tenacious little roots from her family’s tiny lawn. Her father had set her to the task, and incentivized her by paying her a penny a pop. Like most Americans in the 50s, he disliked weeds. A lot. But the times they are a changing – slowly – and unkempt, “natural,” lawns are just starting to make a tentative comeback. Kristin Gore, for one, has proudly committed herbicide in the first degree, making the un-American decision to kill her perfect green lawn and plant a water-efficient, native lawn in its place. And author Robert Wright has just publicly announced that he’s also going AWOL on the war on weeds. He’s taking a stand against pre-emergent pesticides, post-emergent pesticides, and pesticides in general, even if it does mean he has to apologize to the neighbors for lowering their property values.
From Wright’s NYT blog:
“As the spring lawn-care season unfolds, I’d like to enlist you in the war on the war on weeds. […] I know the idea takes some getting used to. But once you set your sights on this goal, reaching it is easy. All you have to do is nothing; nature takes over from there.”
Interestingly, Wright isn’t forsaking traditional lawn treatment because of some obscure study he read on the detrimental health effects of the common pesticide atrazine, or because he met some scientist who woke him up to the environmental dangers of the “Wimbledonlike” lawns we’ve worshipped for decades. He’s letting his lawn go rogue because of what a cursory Google search turned up, but mainly on a hunch:
“My anti-herbicide database consists mainly of spending a few decades on this planet. When people use chemicals, I’ve noticed, unanticipated downsides are more likely than unanticipated upsides, and the downsides often aren’t evident for a long time. I’m playing it safe.”
He’s also, as he readily admits, playing it lazy. There are two kinds of eco-friendly lawns: the kind you work hard at (Kristin Gore and her hubby killed off their grass, then researched and planted all sorts of native species which wouldn’t require watering, for example), and the see-what-happens kind, where you just let the weeds take over, and mow when the brambles get too tall. Wright has chosen the latter approach, and it’s working for him. He likes dandelions, now – enough to take note of the traits they share with “things we call ‘flowers’.” He doesn’t even miss his Wimbledon lawn:
“The preference for Wimbledonlike lawns is not, I submit, a law of nature. I mean, sure, an expanse of green probably does appeal to the typical human’s sense of beauty. But so does a snowcapped Alpine peak — and I’m definitely not putting one of those in my front yard.”
So here’s to lawns that don’t poison pets, toddlers, and water-drinkers downstream. But also, here’s to the fact that Wright is hilarious and hip, and should do us all a favor and share more Wrightian commentary on green living with his readers in the future. I’d sign up for that.