Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Border Patrol

I noticed the other day that I can actually tell where our property ends and our neighbor's begins. I think that is a good thing - every piece of private property should have its own identity (or what's the point of it being private). And every border should be natural, even the manmade ones.

As I think back over the past twenty-eight years I can remember other instances when this was true. With one or two exceptions everyone in this neighborhood mows their own lawns - and has for as long as we've been here. That's important to me. I remember visiting an aunt of mine in suburban Long Island where one and only one landscaping service essentially mowed the entire street, interrupted only by the need to go around the metal or plastic fences that demarked each otherwise identical Eden. Everything looked very nice but to me it somehow just seemed wrong.

My former next-door neighbor John used what he said was "the cheapest" power mower he could find. He replaced them basically every year, and each and every one of them left, for whatever reason, deep, well-defined tire tracks in the new-mown grass. John trimmed his lawn with geometric efficiency and the end result of his efforts was a series of concentric squares stretching from border to border - as obvious as some of the patterns that today are deliberately cut into the outfields at baseball stadiums. He loved cutting the grass, and watered and mowed it frequently, so at least half of the time his fescue reflected the latest impressions of his latest effort.

At that time, as I do today, I used either a power mower or a reel-type push mower - depending on the length of the grass, my level of energy, and the part of the yard (some of the vegetation collapses limply in front of the spinning reel and then pops back up mockingly just in time to be seen on the return trip). My power mowers always have a mulching attachment that, with varying degrees of success, "puts the grass clippings back into the ground" - giving me a least a little ecological cover for polluting the air that I, and others, are inhaling.

The push mower leaves absolutely no evidence of where it has been other than an occasional tuft of belligerently uncut grass, a beheaded dandelion stalk or two, and the thin carpet of detached grass blades that shoot up from the rotating blades, briefly hover, and then float down to the ground. Since I don't rake them I assume eventually they must work their way into the earth - where else would they have to go? - but apparently not as rapidly or efficiently as the power-mulched ones do. At least according to the folks at the Toro Power Equipment Company.

The gas mower leaves tracks, but not anywhere as prominent as those of my former neighbor. This might be partially due to the fact that my cutting paths are more random than geometric and therefore more difficult to discern. Fortunately, at least for tracking purposes, the mulching attachment is less than one hundred percent effective and some of the clippings, rather than being sliced and diced, are instead clumped and dumped at various spots along my cutting route. This is especially true in areas where the grass is taller.

As I understand it the mulching attachment works by bouncing the blades of grass back into the blades of the mower for repeated smaller and smaller chopping - sort of like Cirque Du Soleil in a blender. In order to achieve peak efficiency I probably need to mow while the grass is short enough to allow room for each individual leaf to fall freely, rather than bumping into each other and bundling together - Cirque Du Soleil with some of the acrobats wearing Velcro. I.e. every two or three days. But then I wouldn't need the machine power to push through the waves of grain. I could use my hand-push reel mower and not pollute the skies. But then the grass won't compost, at least not right away.

But there is more to retirement than cutting grass. There is writing about thinking about cutting grass for example.

Anyway the point is that whenever John and I cut our respective lawns at the same time the borderline between our respective properties was readily apparent. Two or so days later that distinction was totally gone. We both had the same genus and species of grass - Kentucky Blue Rooted Tongue Bladed Fescue or something like that. Anyway it was green most of the Spring, Summer and Fall. And stuff grew in it - like dandelions, crabgrass, ground ivy and an unidentified-at-the-time pink-purple weed that popped up in bunches pretty much anywhere it wanted. Having other things to do we both were less than one hundred percent devoted to eliminating them. So, while these uninvited suburban guests didn't exactly flourish on each of our lawns - they were nonetheless a presence on both sides of the border.

Then a few years ago Mars and I began using an organic lawn care company. And John sold his house to Ralph, a thirty-something college professor trying for tenure who shortly thereafter married, and then had a child - not someone likely to be a lawn fanatic. While our yard headed slowly towards weed-independence the one next door drifted somewhat in the opposite direction. (In general there are now three classes of yards on our street: zero dandelions (ChemLawn), a handful of dandelions (Organicare), herds of dandelions (no lawn care).)

A couple of days ago I happened to be walking the property line and noticed thick, pristine, green grass to my left and a blanket of pink-purple to my right. The next day Ralph asked me if I knew what the pale red weeds were. I didn't, but later that week my organic lawn care guys were working across the street at another neighbor, so I wandered over and asked them.

"Henbit." He said after picking off a piece and staring closely at it. Then he walked along the edge of my property with a concerned look on his face and said, "We'll have to keep an eye on that this year to protect your property."

At first I thought he might have been some kind of landscaping Minuteman fanatic, trying to force his own view horticultural uniformity on a less-than-willing population. But on further thought I decided he was just doing his job of providing a little "Lawn Order" on the border - kind of like Sam Waterson in rubber boots and a white polo shirt.

I told him "I'd appreciate it."

"DUN dun"

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