Piled in a heap in the corner of my garage, several 45-pound bags sit unopened, filled with chemical pellets and moral dilemmas.
I’d purchased the bags this spring in a fit of optimistic self-unawareness, with intent to spread them on our yard at intervals throughout the year, to help fill in the bare spots in my soul where purpose and meaning are supposed be.
No, actually, I bought them because I’m in danger of violating the prime directive of lawn care, which is to do no harm to your neighbors’ property values. When balancing yardwork with actual enjoyable parts of life, you need to figure out the exact minimum amount of work you can do to keep your neighbors from getting angry with you, then spend maybe five more minutes pulling weeds before going inside to make sure you haven’t missed anything on Facebook or, failing that, real life.
The results of my ten-year experiment are clear, though: If you don’t do anything for your yard other than mow it whenever the grass gets tall enough to hide a groundhog, the grassy paradise you inherited from the previous owner will eventually disappear like the sane candidate in a primary election.
Everywhere else in our neighborhood, the grass is thick and lustrous, like my hair used to be. At our house, though, we have a few sprigs of grass sprinkled in with a sprawling mix of chickweed, plantain, dandelion, wild strawberry, and clover. Our yard has become the salad my wife orders at Panera.
So in a moment of weakness, I bought a year’s supply of chemical cocktails to reverse the slide toward entropy.
I realize that worrying about grass and weeds is a rather geriatric preoccupation, and that purchase was the second indication that week that I’d entered a new realm of dealing with old person problems. The first one came at the barber shop. At the end of the haircut, the barber said the word “brows” like it was a question.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Do you want me to trim your eyebrows?” he asked while snipping his scissors in the air. It took a moment for the question to sink in. For the first half of a man’s life, his only eyebrow-related concern is making sure that they don’t connect.
“Oh, no thanks,” I said. In the parking lot afterward, I looked in the rearview mirror to see that a few eyebrow hairs had indeed grown longer, like dandelions proudly standing above the grass. First the bald spot, next the eyebrows. The indignities of old age seem to be slowly losing altitude.
Back in the garage, my five-year-old son, Zack, pointed at my newly purchased bag of Weed & Feed and asked, “Is that poison?”
“Poison? No way, buddy. It’s just a chemical that kills things. Yeah, okay, it’s poison,” I replied.
“Isn’t poison bad?” he asked.
“No. Yes. Sometimes,” I replied, giving him the same answer I’ll give him in several years when he asks me the same question about sex.
It occurred to me then that the whole idea of spreading poison around the yard goes against the natural order. Even if the contents of the bags are perfectly safe for my family and the world, aren’t we picking the wrong winners? Grass is weak. It needs water, sun, soil, fertilizer, attention. Weeds just need an opportunity and some alone time.
One common argument for obsessive lawn care is that grass is better for kids to play on, but that problem can be easily solved by giving your kids iPads.
Besides, if it’s impossible to have a grassy lawn without regularly applying chemicals, maybe we should all just be happy with Panera-salad yards. At the very least, that’s what I’ll tell myself while I ponder what to do with these bags in the garage. Maybe we’d be better off with a nice vinaigrette.
You can weed out Mike Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.