I was on my hands and knees in the dirt with a trowel in my hand when it happened. While upending newly sprouted weeds with unknown names in the flower garden bed, I looked beside me at the lawn just out of its winter torpor. All at once, I saw what I’d never seen before: that this lawn in its own primal, unmown, unfertilized, untended state of being, was beautiful.
In the small patch beside me, the dandelions were a pouf of yellow piercing the gray, overcast day. The wild daisies were stippling the air with their tiny white wings. The spires of purple ajuga with their deep mahogany leaves added a sense of mystery and whispered of the exotic. And the wild strawberry creeping under the blades of grass on thin tendrils were abloom with endearing white flowers like the bright faces of young girls.
Years of disdain for the ratty lawn and the lazy homeowner who sat about on a Saturday instead of tending to the business of keeping the lawn in its green carpeted glory fell away suddenly. It was as if I’d entered a new room in my brain labeled Lawn in the Late Anthropocene. And in that room the lawn was not a bit player in the story of a warming planet. In that room the lawn was a villain disguised in green silk clothing and smelling of dew.
Marveling at how blind I had been to the lawn’s role in the story of the warming planet, I put my trowel down and shook the dirt from my clothes and went inside and Googled “climate change and lawn.” I learned that lawns take up 60 million miles of land in this country. And most of those lawns are watered, fertilized with nitrogen, chemically treated for weed control and of course, mown.
My awakening to the CO2 snorting evils of my lifestyle began, like Edison, with the light bulb. First, I turned the lamps off more frequently. Then I replaced all the light bulbs with a low-energy bulb. Soon, I looked out the window at my car in the driveway. In 2001, I calculated the gallons and gallons of gasoline I could save by turning it in and buying a Prius.
But even after awakening to the carbon transgressions of the oil burner, the single pane widow, the hamburger, and even my lust for a new pair of shoes, not until this moment in the dirt had I seen the lawn as anything but a sweet green dream where my house floated through time, as cool shade for crickets in summer and soft padding under my feet. As innocent.
My sense is that for each of us our carbon consciousness evolves irrationally, erratically, in “ah ha!” bursts of meaning when suddenly the story we tell ourselves about some part of our lives and the moral consequences of that story changes. I don’t know why this door opened at this particular moment in time. The important thing is to notice the door opening, to walk inside. To ask questions.
The psychologists who study social change tell us that change happens in the context of our social group. If we feel our actions connect us to others whom we identify with, we are more likely to adapt that change.
Given all that, what am I to do about this lawn, two acres of which have been mowed for the last ten years by Mr. Mutty, a retired sternman on a lobster boat.
What I am going to do is make paths. Paths that take you to the apple trees and the pond and the edge of Eastern Harbor. What I am going to do is let the wildflowers grow up in the rest of the lawn. What I am going to do is invite the bees and the butterflies and the dragonflies and the wasps to sip from the flowers.
Lobstering is the backbone of the economy here in Washington County and the lobstermen are worried. They know the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than any other body of water in the world. They know the lobsters in waters south of us have all migrated north for cold water. They know it could happen here any moment.
What I am going to do does not have the panache of a shiny red Prius. It’s just a little brown bird of change. But it’s a start. I am going to put a sign on my lawn. I’m going to try to connect to my neighbors.
“Mow less. Grow Flowers. Save Lobsters.”
Addison resident Kathleen Sullivan is a retired psychotherapist and writer of poems and essays. She is currently editing a book of poems and essays on climate change to be published this fall by Littoral Press.