Saturday, June 19, 2004


Grass used to be, well, just grass. The green stuff around the house that Dad fussed over and mowed. The lawn. When I became a homeowner I found I was also a defacto lawnowner. Plus the proud owner of an oblong backyard filled with barkmulch. Determined to make good on our suburban obligations, we hired a gardener to install a back lawn. Twice. And then I, two dead lawns under my belt, and armed with a rake and a bag of seed, played sower. Flung handsfull of grass seed about, willy nilly, and dutifully hosed it down each morning and evening. A crop of frail blades emerged and were soon overcome by a burgeoning swathe of crabgrass.

So I gave up and bought a weed book. And began to study the natural ecology of our weed lawn. Left to its own devices, the back yard greens. Crabgrass, clover, yellow wood sorrell, bedstraws, speedwells, madders, nutsedge and, later, spurge all appear. Plus dandelions, hawkweed, poorman's pepper, shepherd's purse, swallow wort, chicory -- all sorts of interesting little plants, little niches, a patchwork of derelict flora.

Fred, across the street, put in a lawn this year. Replaced the dusty, half-green patch where he used to park his car. Within a week his threadbare dirt patch became a lush emerald swathe. Our sidefence neighbor, former owner of a child-betrodden, toy-strewn dirt-and-mudflat backyard, put in a lawn, seemingly overnight. Lush, green, landscaped. The first we knew about it was a note, taped to our back door, which said, basically, Ahem well hello would you kindly cut down your maple trees which cause us no end of shade, mold, rot and mildew.

Later today, soon in fact, I have to mow my weedlawn. A neighborly obligation. I keep my weedlawn tidy. I do spare interesting plants and plant clumps. I have no interest in cutting down maple trees or obtaining my own emerald sward. I would have to hire a gardener. Men with machines and poisons. An army. To protect my lawn. Nah. There are enough battles in the world.

At the river, the grass is ascendant. Magnificent. Prolific, prodigal, carzily diverse. Seedheads -- or, latinately, inflorescences -- sprout the most extravagant sexual doohickeys, and toss back and forth in the wind and sun. (My botanic vocabulary is not what it might be.) I look, and look, and look, never tiring of the wild display. Grasses, flaunting and disseminating and inseminating. And between them, flowers. Wildflowers, weeds. Rushes, sedges. The meadow renews itself. There are technical words for all these parts, these flowers and stems ans seeds and leaves -- and each plant has a name. Has two -- common, and latin, low church and high church. Like our beautiful language, English, that saxon and latin chimera. Seed head, inflorescence. Grass. Panicum. Poaceae. Agrostis. I think of the millions of poems in the world. Poems written, read, poems fertilizing the brainbeds from which other poems grow, poet to poet, generations of poems -- and suddenly the world's surfeit of poems that once dismayed me by its sheer size, delights me, delights me as a meadow does, succeeding itself year after year.

See ?

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