It’s the same drudgery, week after week, month after month, for most of the year, every year. Drag out the mower and cut down the growth in the yard. It’s an exhausting, sweaty job that takes me just over two hours to accomplish. It takes longer in the summertime when I require frequent rests so as not to succumb to the extreme heat and humidity of Northeast Nebraska.
Even on the days of less heat and humidity, the steady perspiration rinses away the sunscreen, soaks my cap and clothing, which, in turn, attracts the dust stirred up by the mower. All of which stings the eyes and turns me into a disgusting, smelly sunburnt mess.
Last fall, was particularly mild, so there was an additional month’s worth of mowing to do. That means the annual average time spent on the yard was skewed upwards. During the final lawn mowing of 2016 I did some mental math. Ever since I’ve cared for this lawn, I have spent more than a month’s (day and night) worth of time mowing my landlord’s property. That doesn’t look like much until one imagines mowing grass and weeds non-stop for more than 31 days and nights, non-stop.
During the three decades I’ve lived here, I’ve purchased and worn out several mowers. They include a Sears Craftsman, a Lawnboy Scamp, A Black and Decker electric, A “Lawn Machine” electric, and my present mower a “Lawn Machine” gasoline powered mower. These have all been walk behinds because there is no room to store a rider in the garage. Also, riders require much more gasoline and maintenance, which means much more expense.
I’m thankful my landlord does not require that I apply fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides to his property. That means a lesser amount of pollution of the environment. Still, I don’t like the fact that the mower emits as much air pollution per hour as a half-dozen cars. Some of the larger riding mowers are as dirty as a dozen cars per hour. When I was mowing with electrics, there was still the fact that they used energy generated by coal or nuclear sources.
Then there is the noise factor. Nearly every day the putt putt of push mowers and the roar of large riders intrudes on the peace and quiet of the neighborhood. Even though I wear ear protection, the lawn mower has contributed to tinnitus. This ringing in the ears has been a heavy price to pay for the requirement of maintaining the yard.
When I spend hours pushing the loud, dangerous contraption back and forth across the yard, I think a lot. Frequently, those thoughts question why our culture and asthetics mandate that we must have lawns.
Even if I relegated the weekly chore to someone else, that person would have to endure the same hazards and inconveniences. Plus, there would be the added expense of paying someone to do my work. I can’t afford a chore person, anyway.
There are several thousand yards in my town, so the hours spent mowing must be multiplied by that number. Also, a majority of those lawns are fertilized and bathed in pesticides and herbicides to some degree. We must also remember there are football, baseball, soccer fields, and huge golf courses planted with perfect grassy surfaces. Plus there are the city parks and other land that is devoted to lawn grass.
These have greatly contributed to polluted lakes, ponds, and streams in and around the city. All of this translates into a huge carbon footprint as a result of lawn care just in this small city alone.
Certainly there is a minority of the population who deeply enjoys lawn care. They don’t mind spending thousands of dollars each year on irrigation, cultivation, weed control, mowing, and disposal of grass cuttings. I know a few people who actually like the pursuit of a uniform monoculture of grass on their yards. On the other hand, most of the people I know resent the lawn growing cultural norm to some extent.
We’re encouraged to spend hard-earned money on our yards. Even people who live in apartment complexes must know that a portion of the monthly rent goes towards lawn care. The lawn business is a $40,000,000,000 per year industry in the United States.
The nation is obsessed with eliminating native plants and encouraging non-native monoculture grasses. The United States uses more than 90,000,000 pounds of chemical fertilizers and over 78,000,000 pounds of pesticides and herbicides just to keep our lawns esthetically acceptable. We also use more water for lawn grass than farmers use to produce food grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Agronomists (soil management and field crop production experts) estimate that fully one third of the water from public sources is used for landscaping, with most of that going towards lawn grasses. Amazingly half of the public water in Florida is used to landscape property. In the Western states that typically suffer water shortages, some 70-percent of public water is used for landscaping.
Aside from water use, there are the multiple problems associated with lawn fertilizers. Fertilizers contain high levels of phosphates and nitrogen compounds. Lawn fertilizers are applied in much higher concentrations than used in agriculture. The same is true for herbicides and pesticides.
The excess soaks into aquifers and washes off yards into drains, storm sewers, and waterways during rainstorms. This eventually ends up in our drinking water or evaporates into the air. Add to that, all the toxic emissions from gasoline powered lawn mowers and garden machinery.
On top of these problems, most of us are locked into perpetuating them due to the fact that we must abide by city ordinances or neighborhood association contracts. We are killing ourselves with our obsession over lawns. At the very least, we spend a huge proportion of our precious lives in the cutting and maintaining these green spaces. Millions of Americans have better things to do with our time.
There are a few counter-cultural alternatives out there, but they have a long ways to go before they are accepted and adopted by the majority of homeowners.
Today, I’m just sharing my thoughts as I think about prepping the lawn mower for yet another yard cutting season.