A Sentient Yard

I've just been out in the backyard gathering up the wood, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, stacking it in the woodpile. A good 3/4 of our woodpile comes directly from our yard (and by "our" I mean my family, since I don't have a proper home of my own.) This load came from a recently dead elderberry tree, not high in BTU, but immensely high in a feeling of self-sufficiency.

Our modest sized yard, front and back, contains about 40 trees - maples, hemlocks, shore pines and alders, plums and apples and birch. They intertwine in a gorgeous canopy, and underneath them grow the plants of the Pacific Northwest - blue huckleberry and shiny-leafed salal, ground-loving kinnikinnick and brilliant rhododendron, the lily of the forest - trillium. The yard is an entity to itself, surprising me every time I take a closer look. Sometimes I find a chickadee nest in a branch or a flame-orange newt hiding beneath a log. Sometimes I find a new plant growing, the first of its kind in the yard. The red elderberry I have just finished cutting came here on its own, planted itself conveniently next to a bench, sprung up to the size of a massive tree and reigned over that corner of the yard for several years before inexplicably dying as fast as it had appeared. It was a marvelous tree.

As I have said, our yard is no bigger than the average, about two car lengths deep on both sides. It is an oasis of leaf and life in a desert of cut grass. For as long as I live, I will never understand the great American desire to have a view of Kansas from every window - a flat square of grass, a carpet of Astroturf. I just don't get the obsession with lawns. Sure, they make a fine playing field if you happen to feel like croquet or touch football, this I could understand... but the vast majority of lawns I see in my neighborhood never have people on them. They are a green gap between the house and the road, and the only time they seem to receive any attention is when they are being mowed.

Such a puzzle, Western man's need to conquer nature and follow the norm, ticky tacky. I heard a theory once that the desire for a perfect lawn stems from deep in our evolutionary past, when early men stood on the savanna scanning the horizon for game. Interesting, but bollocks, I say. The quest for the uniform monoculture grass square is peculiar to Americans, or at least Western Civilization. Lawns are yet unknown to the majority of the world.

Our "forest" yard, as wild as it might look, takes far more care than a square of grass. I cut back the blackberry thorns that hide beneath the bushes, waiting to spring into unattended brambles. I gather up the alder limbs that fall in the winter storms. I hack away at Grapezilla, the fruit vine which plots in the night to consume our house. In the last few days I have accumulated a pile of brush taller than myself, and yet even I, who knows where it all came from, can hardly tell the difference. And when our small lawn (which is not in the shape of a square) needs mowing, I fetch my trusty motor-free push mower and stroll back and forth with a pleasant *thwip-thwip-thwip* sound, butterflies alighting on my shoulders. (Not exactly, but close.)

Our neighbors put up with the clash of ideologies. They clip the tree branches when they grow past the fenceline, we close the windows against the constant roar of gas powered mowers, and we both shake our heads at each other. Nevermind. I will always prefer the sentient yard, and the host of squirrels, snakes, frogs, and songbirds that populate it might well agree.


bearded vet said...

I agree, a back yard full of treasure is much preferable to me over a level run of grass. Especially if you aren't using the grass for sports or anything. Your back yard sounds like a fun place to visit. I love places that I can visit hundreds of times and still find new things about it.

In addition to following the norm, I think lawns might have something to do with the need to feel in control of something, to have order in part of life. There are many things we can't control...but given the time and effort, the lawn can be shaped into what it is "supposed to be" Maybe that's the case for some people...maybe not for others.

Kt said...

Fun to visit and fun to work on, and I have seen it grow since I was a child. It's nice to lean against a towering tree that I spared as a sapling years ago.

I agree with the control thing. Man seems unable to let nature be nature.