The Lawn Goodbye
One writer’s yard work is never done
By Jeff Paschal
Two deer drinking down at the creek sealed the deal for us. And I suppose many decisions that shape our lives rest on just such thin, unlikely coincidences.
My wife, Beth, and I had moved to Greensboro in 2011, rented awhile, and then began house-hunting around the area. We wanted the following: an affordable place with several bedrooms on the first floor to entice mobility-challenged family to visit, a front porch big enough for multiple rocking chairs, an attached garage because that’s what my Northerner wife expected and a yard expansive enough to entertain our overgrown, brown-and-white shelter mutt, Zoe.
We toured homes in Greensboro, Summerfield and Browns Summit. All nice places, but in each case there was something that made us keep looking. Then on our first visit to a house out in the country near Oak Ridge, we spied two deer drinking from the creek at the bottom of the property, and that did it. Sold! Not exactly a rational decision, right? We got part of what we wanted in the deal — several first floor bedrooms, a small front porch with a decent-sized back deck, a detached garage and a yard big enough to amuse a pack of hounds.
And like me, the yard itself could be described as ornery and rough around the edges. Actually, it’s also rough in the front, middle and back. Wander around and you’re liable to trip over the occasional half-buried boulder, slip on red-clay bare patches, tromp through weeds (some that bear a disturbing resemblance to red-leafed lettuce), a wealth of wildflowers, a sprinkle of rebellious kudzu, and you may even encounter a little real grass I “planted” by throwing grass seed on the dirt spots before rain storms.
Our country-fried North Carolina yard is a far cry from the lot we left in northeast Ohio. There we were situated in a tidily packaged neighborhood with houses just a few feet apart and tennis court–size yards. Practically all the neighbors had lawns they fussed over with fertilizer, weed-killer, electric driveway edgers and even leaf blowers to neaten up the cut grass after they had mowed. Meanwhile, I was happy just to mow our yard and let the grass go au naturel. Whatever grew, grew. On the other hand, our next-door neighbors actually entered their yard in a beautiful yard contest and got second place. When Beth congratulated them on their award they noted that they would have gotten first place, but somehow a stray dandelion (an apparent escapee from an untnamed neighbor’s unkempt grass) had been found growing in their yard.
On another occasion, I was mowing our yard, but the grass kept clogging the mower. A neighbor walked over to assist. He adjusted the angle of the grass chute. That helped a tiny bit, but the problem persisted. Another neighbor joined us. We set the cutting blades a little higher. A wee bit more improvement. Yet another neighbor joined us and we turned the mower upside down for a closer look, the four of us hovering over it like concerned physicians examining a patient afflicted with some exotic disease. But the cure eluded us. A few days later, Beth took the mower to the shop. The repairman took a quick look and asked, “Has your husband recently tried to sharpen the cutting blades himself?” “Yes,” she said. “Well, he’s put the blades back on upside down.”
Ensconced in pastoral Guilford County, I’ve definitely figured out the right way to sharpen and replace mower blades — nowadays for our small lawn tractor. In fact, I’ve even learned how to operate a chainsaw and a 1976 Gravely Commercial 8 Bush Hog. Using the bush hog, I’ve managed to clear away the undergrowth along the creek so you can actually walk along the water. Now frogs, turtles, snakes, fish, beavers, raccoons, all manner of critters, creatures great and small, make appearance and send me straight back to childhood days playing in the woods and by the dairy pond behind my South Carolina boyhood home. And there’s something primal, something calming and healing about walking near water that gurgles and flows in a stream, isn’t there?
Of course, life has its seasons, and there will come a time when the computer keys don’t click in front of me and the lawn equipment has long been silent. I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear the Keeper of the Garden say, “Oh, you’re here. Still rough around the edges, I see. Ah well, I suppose you can come in. What’s one more dandelion?” OH
When he isn’t doing second rate yard work, Jeff Paschal enjoys feeding spoiled rotten hummingbirds.