Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Greensward

One of the few improvements man has been able to make in Mother Nature’s landscape is a well-mowed lawn.  Her prairies and mountain meadows may look smooth and beautiful from a distance, as do pastures that have been grazed, but they’re not much fun to walk over in bare feet.

This summer as the price of gas nearly doubled I didn’t see that anyone had stopped cutting their lawn to save a few pennies. Even this parsimonious old lady mows the weedy lawns on Locust Hill pictured above each Friday. They always look just fine on the weekend. 

There is just no real substitute for the incredibly green green of freshly mowed grass in spring, or the deep blue-green of a maple-shaded summer lawn, or even the pristine white blanket that stretches beyond the window in unbroken splendor after a winter snow.

Do you remember back in 1972 when the Arabs treated us to an oil embargo?  Environmentalists urged everyone to turn his or her lawn into a meadow full of wildflowers.  That idea may sound appealing, and would certainly eliminate the weekly chore of cutting the grass, but I wouldn’t call it an adequate substitute of the greensward.

When I was growing up in West Hartford, one of our more prosperous neighbors put in a six hole golf course in his front yard.  A few years later the Second World War’s gas rationing forced him to let it turn into an unmowed field. My friends and I played far more delightful games than golf in that luxurious meadow, matting down secret tunnels and serpentine paths that led to incredibly soft nests on the overgrown putting greens.

Most country clubs kept their golf courses mowed during the war by using their members’ pooled gas coupons.  But I can remember one in Vermont that found a better way.  I don’t play golf so maybe “different” would be a more appropriate adjective.  That golf course was fenced and grazed by sheep.  Each ewe was outfitted with a football helmet to protect  her from the flying golf balls.

We are so lucky in New England compared to the West and South where drought so often turns everyone’s lawn into ugly dry dust.  We usually have just enough rain to prevent such discouraging landscapes.  The last drought  I can remember that was serious enough to turn the lawns on Locust Hill brown was in 1999.

Plants sweat in hot weather, just the same way we do, but it’s called transpiration, not perspiration.  We sweat to cool our bodies, but plants do it to get rid of excess water.  Their roots need that water to carry minerals up from the soil to all parts of the plant, but once it’s been released, the plant gets rid of the water through its leaves in transpiration.

When temperatures soar into the 90s as they tend to do more frequently every summer, a maple tree can lose several hundred gallons of water in a day; an acre of pasture grass can release up to 400,000 gallons during a growing season.  So next time your tennis game gets washed out in a summer storm or all the shirts drying on the clothesline get drenched, don’t complain.  Be thankful. 

On September 24th two years ago,  Golda Meier, our 25 year old goldfish, died.  I thought it would be nice to put her picture up for those of you who didn’t read the column I wrote about this remarkable old lady. 

Many readers have asked about the new fish I bought to replace Goldie. A tiny Comet, silvery white instead of orange, whose name, Ben Hur, I chose from among many suggested by my readers.   Shortly after I released him into the pond, we had a tremendous rain storm, so drenching that the pond overflowed the dam.

You know that song “…and he swam and he swam, right over the dam!”  I’m afraid that is exactly what little Ben did as I haven’t seen him since.  If I don’t see him by next spring, I guess I’ll get another little fish who will hopefully be strong enough by the autumn hurricanes to survive. 

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