First weekend in May, I finally got around to cutting my front lawn. It had grown out tall enough to make me worry the county may give me another notice like they did a decade ago, warning me to cut it or they’ll send someone to cut it and charge me for it.
It is generous to call it a lawn. It is really just the space between my neighbors lawns and between my house and the street, 50 feet wide and 25 feet street to house. Most of my land is behind the front edge of the house, but the only cutting I do there is with pruning sheers to cut out seedlings, briers, and vines that block a path to the sewer cleanout manhole that happens to be on my property.
In all the years I have lived in this house, I have never done anything to actually build up a front lawn. No seeding, no fertilization or treatments, no effort at all except for the occasional cutting, perhaps 5 times a year. There used to be a tree but I removed it when it was found to be rotting out inside. I did have them grind out the stump, but I didn’t do anything to the remainder, not even filling in the dip where the tree stood.
What happened to all my land is what happened in my front yard. Whatever naturally wants to grow there is allowed to grow. I give it some space to grow tall in the early spring, given some things a chance to get least get to the seeding stage. I let them go to seed where I can get away with it.
The result is a very diverse ground. There are wild strawberries, ivy, clover, a variety of grass-like species, patches of moss, and patches of other close-to-ground plants I don’t even bother looking up to identify. The funny thing is that these all appears in patches as if each species has staked out its own little yards with some kind of economy of sharing in places.
The reason why I cut it was that there were about 5 different little clumps of the kind of grass that would make a luxurious lawn if the entire yard were like that. They were approaching a foot tall but in patched about the size of a hand. Surrounding them was shorter stuff of various things including whatever grass that sends up those sparse and thin-stemmed seed-baring things.
Now that I describe this, it probably would be nice to take an inventory of every different plant species making a home out of my front yard. There are multiple varieties of mosses and numerous species of mushrooms I can’t count because they only appear a couple days every few years when conditions are just right. I’m sure there are a least 20 different varieties of mushrooms living in the same spot, and I’m surprised that they don’t seem to mind sharing the same space.
Behind the front edge of the house is a slope that drops about 50 feet in a series of terraces. Once upon a time, I did cut that as well, but that was a long time ago. Now I give anything the licence to grow back there as I do the front, except I let taller things grow.
The primary exception are the sprouts from the tree-of-heaven I recently had cut down. If unchecked they would make a thick impenetrable patch covering the entire back yard. It is also sport to cut them out because they grow so fast, 6 foot tall trees appear in just a matter of weeks because they sprout from the still living roots that are all over the yard.
I also take out honeysuckle bushes also as sport because they so readily reappear.
There are a few other things that I regularly cut out, but like the two above examples, they are things that just keep reappearing in tall form after just a few days (or so it seems). These include grape vines, raspberry briars, and something I have not identified that has barely visible but very long thorns that will pierce through even shoes. That last one is the most tricky because I have to actually get rid of it because stacking it anywhere will always make those thorns ready to pierce when getting near them. Due to the current COVID situation, the county recently announced they are no longer picking up yard waste in the special carts they gave us for that purpose, that was the ideal disposal for these briars. Maybe I can weave them into a barb-wire fence.
A couple things were deliberately planted in the back yard, such as wisteria, rhododendrons, azaleas, mountain laurel, and hydrangea. They still persist with no assistance for me. Except for the wisteria, the rest continue to bloom on schedule. Not enough light for the wisteria, I guess. The back yard slopes to the east and is under many trees so it is very shaded.
I will spend just a couple days a year clearing things out the back yard, so I give it even less attention than the front. I don’t even bother walking back there much except when I feel adventurous. Although my property line extends to the other side of the stream, I have only been at the stream bottom a couple times in all the years I have been here, the cliff at the edge is too steep. I imagine I could get down, but I doubt I’d be able to get back up. There are a lot of different things growing at that edge as well.
I don’t have a large yard, all told perhaps 1/6 of one acre, but it is very diverse. More important to me is that it is mostly natural. Most of what is growing in my yard volunteered to grow there. Certainly, there are invasive species among the mix, but there are also native species there as well.
Despite the smallness of the yard, there are trails worn through by wild animals. I notice the foxes because they are out during the day, but I suspect there are other animals like opossums and raccoons. There are definitely many grey and black squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and moles, and who know what else, but I don’t they are making the trails. In the air, my plot gets visits from passing through hawks, golden eagles, osprey. The creek will get visits from ducks and an occasional heron.
I have plenty of insects and spiders and other invertebrates, I just don’t bother noting them.
Back to my front yard, I use one of those manual mowers that you have to push to get the rolling blades to move to cut the grass. The reason I use it is because I’m inherently cheap and it is so reliable. Over time I learned to appreciate its ability to cut only for a range of heights. Anything that is too tall, the contraption just rolls over them and they pop back up afterwards. The result is more of a thinning than a cutting. After cutting the yard, it does appear to be cut from a distance, but when you get close it reveals an unkempt look that I find pleasing and consistent with the patchwork of what is living there.
This is a house in an urban area. One of the reasons I get away with letting things look wild is that my property is in a designated resource protection area to protect the Chesapeake bay because the creek eventually leads to the bay. We are encouraged to keep things natural, but I’m pretty sure the county expects more of a professionally manicured version of natural. I’m certain my neighbors would wish that. Their yards are much more presentable with contracted lawn services and pesticide appliers.
The interior of my house also is left alone for the most part. Long before buying this property, I lived in an apartment building that is only a few blocks away and is about the same age as this house. I specifically recall that place having a pesticide contractor come into each unit every couple months and soak the corners with pesticides meant to control the cockroaches and ants. Despite these treatments, we kept having trouble with cockroaches and ants. Although poorer at the time and thus more easily upset at lost food, I was often amused to find after a day of getting groceries, box of dry spaghetti chewed into and the ends of the strands chewed into, or boxes of cookies completely covered in ants. Everything needed to be stored in plastic containers and even those showed roughness indicating attempts to chew through those.
When I got this house, I was advised to get a similar service for this place. There were cockroaches and ants at first, but being miserly and chemical paranoid I decided to just put up with the pests. A few months later, I began noticing spiders and centipedes that didn’t really bother me other than startle me. About the same time, I stopped seeing ants and cockroaches and haven’t seen them since.
One thing I like is buying fresh baked bread, the kind with a crisp crust and is unsliced. I try to get a loaf after couple days and just let it sit out on the counter to preserve the crisp crust. It is stiff enough to use a rubber band to pull the ends together to last another day without the inside getting dry. There it will sit with no containers, not even a plastic bag and yet is completely untouched by anything the next morning.
I think it has something to do with the centipedes and spiders that I rarely ever see but I know are around. These would be killed by pesticide companies, they even brag about it.
All this description describes something about who I am. Even though I live in a city, and make a living relying on high technology, I am very tolerant with nature around me. I tend to favor letting nature takes its course on my own property. I’m even willing to take some inconvenience such as the startle factor of catching out the corner of my eye a scurrying centipede in the late evening.
I find a certain pleasure living this way. I enjoy discovering what would happen if I leave things alone. Part of the pleasure is a comfort that comes from feeling a connection to nature. Although I recognize I’m privileged as a human to enjoy some protections of a secure home with plumbing, HVAC, refrigeration, and a phone call away from emergency services, it is still reassuring to have a property that is less sanitized of Earthly existence.
The idealized homes seen in architectural or landscaping magazines are very clean and sanitized. Everything is in the place where some human decided to place it, and everything that does not belong is scrupulously removed.
The image I’m trying to convey is the difference between camping in the wilderness and living in a artificially lit laboratory clean-room, or the depiction of many science-fiction space-ship interiors. I’m living somewhere between the two extremes, but much closer to camping at least in terms of how much I allow nature to encroach on my property.
Of course, mankind has for centuries now have idealized the free-of-nature properties that often were most associated with the elite classes but now increasingly is available to a larger middle class. That said, I think in recent decades, we have become even more removed from living on earth through our preferences of using enclosed vehicles to travel even a couple blocks, and our preferences to use Internet technologies to interact with the world through a shield of glass connected by electronic communications.
Recent discussions even include objectives about attaining immortality by uploading our consciousness to the cloud where it can live forever in a space that can simulate any existence imaginable and in particular completely escape the existence on Earth we have now.
Many people appear to prefer to live in a virtual world that ignores the world they are in. A good example I see frequently is people completely absorbed in their personal electronic devices even in public spaces such as in shopping centers, transit, or even in normal social areas like bars and restaurants. In my walks, I am frequently encounter entire groups of people huddled together so that it is obvious they know each other but everyone’s attention is fully on their personal smart phones. I even walk right through the middle of them and they don’t even step back as if not even knowing I exist.
I personally find something important in observing, recognizing, and acknowledging the life exists in the real world.
We often hear things like life is precious and should be enjoyed to the fullest extent. Often that is in the context that that life is the personal private consciousness of a person who just happens to be on Earth. That life could be as readily enjoyed or even more enjoyed if free from the limitations and dangers of Earth. Enjoying life in this sense could be enjoyed in cruise ships or spending time in air travel. I can easily imagine something comparable to cruise ships but are designed as inter-planetary space ships that take years to reach some planetary destination, and people would be completely content in that space. They would be convinced they are living their life to the fullest enjoyment possible.
When it comes to living an enjoyable life, Earth itself is optional, and nature is often a nuisance that needs to be avoided. This attitude influences our governments where it seems the goal is to control nature and make it conform to our expectations. This includes even environmentalists that claim to want to preserve nature by creating natural reserves where they set limitations on what nature can do. Even for such nature preserves, it is our duty to cull out over populations or to exterminate any invasive species that does not belong.
I feel like there is a different feeling of satisfaction in knowing that not only am I alive for the short period of time I’m given, but I am alive on this particular planet that I share with a lot of other forms of life. There is something satisfying about being among a larger ecosystem even though I full recognize the harshness of an ecosystem that does not care if I exist or not, and has many things that would prefer that I were killed for their benefit.
There is something important about maintaining a connection to the Earth and the nature within it. If I am the result of evolution, then I have an inherited connection with the nature that surrounds me. If I am the result of creation, than the creator placed me here for the reason that I belong here. Even if neither explanation may have some beneficent intentions toward my happiness and well-being, there is a source of happiness in knowing that this is where I belong, here on Earth with at least some ongoing connection to the natural world on the other side of my artificially-constructed shelters.
There is also a similar satisfaction of being part of a society by direct engagement with strangers, being able to talk or to negotiate with them, and interact in person in close proximity and exposing our full facial and bodily expressions.
Enjoying the living of life is much more than a feeling of comfort and safety while being synthetically stimulated with electronic entertainment or other modern possibilities.
To me, this has been exposed in the recent stay-at-home orders insisted upon us by our governor. I am perfectly able to fully preoccupy myself with the possibilities inside my house so that the end of the day I do not feel bored and even feel quite content at my accomplishments. The current situation suggests that this can be sustainable. I could live the rest of my life this way. If enough people were to do this, then the invisible enemy virus would disappear due to lack of opportunity to spread.
Although I am a very private and reclusive individual, I don’t think this is what it means to live. It is not sufficient to be safe and comfortable and entertained. If it were, then we could just take out everyone’s brains and place them in vats of nutrients with stimulating electrodes to simulate experiences.
Living life requires authentic life and specifically on the planet we are on with all of its nature. An authentic life comes with dangers and it is those dangers that confirm the authenticity of participating in the world we are given.
Personally, I’m convinced that this new virus escaped from a laboratory after being artificially engineered specifically with the intent of being particularly virulent against humans. Despite this pedigree, it is now a part of nature. A similar accidentally mutated strain has always been possible. Part of living an authentic life is dealing with the consequences of this kind of novelty threat.
The authentic life may end up tragically, just as similar epidemics and plagues have claimed lives before. Dealing with this is not pretty or pleasurable, but it is part of living authentically on this planet.
No matter how harshly this condition affects me personally, I am confident that there will be human survivors who will live in a time when this virus is no longer a threat. Either the virus has disappeared, or it has culled out the genetics that are susceptible to its worst effects.
Authentic human living in this world comes particularly from this confidence and hopefulness for the future long after we are gone. We cannot experience this type of authenticity without living through this period of risk. Just as our ancestors did, we need to live through this by engaging with nature and ourselves, not isolating and sheltering to wait it out.
Referring back to science fiction analogy, I’m seeing something very strange. People are walking around, often alone, wearing breathing masks, face shields, gloves, and armed with hand sanitizers. They are avoiding each other and communicating only through electronic devices. Meanwhile, they are walking among nature that is celebrating springtime in every way possible.
The image reminds me of extra-terrestrial aliens in space suits walking in an alien world that has some kind of toxic atmosphere. These are humans. This is no longer their planet. They are temporarily stranded on this alien world and hope that science will bring in their rescue ships, probably in the form of some kind of consciousness upload into an Internet cloud.