Sunday, May 7, 2017

Lawn Care As A Religion

The English-speaking world, having dismissed traditional monotheistic religion as mythology, needs other things on which to base their values. There's faux democracy, of course, but that's seldom important on a personal level except for the most deranged. For the normal American, Canadian and even many Brits, especially those that reside in the suburbs, the lawn around their home has become a focal point that has taken the place of religion in day to day life.

Lawns as we know them probably originated with English tourists returning home from visits to France in the seventeenth century. Always aware of their cultural inferiority to the French, as they are today, the English saw the large and opulent grounds of the French aristocracy as a goal for themselves. Only a generation or two from living under the same roof with their livestock, the primitive English kicked their pigs out of their bedrooms, enclosed the commons and put their tenants to task manicuring their estates.

The Puritans brought this phenomenon to the New World and even today no American detached home is considered livable without a surrounding patch of carefully manicured and watered grass. Business facilities also include elaborate landscaping, not all of which is devoted to parking for employees and customers.

A major aspect of this conformity is regulation. Virtually all municipalities require that "weeds", ie. plants that aren't of the fescue or bluegrass type, be kept down or eliminated. Dandelions and creeping charlie are frowned upon, thistles and burdocks abhorred. These regulations are based upon the theory that the unmanicured yard of a neighbor reflects poorly on the property values and even character of others. It costs me money if you don't mow your lawn. Mammon being the true deity of the West, a decrepit lawn becomes a sin.

Oddly, it's not generally accepted to discourage the seating of an unattractive person at an adjacent table in a restaurant because their presence might make one look bad. In fact, even ugly people are allowed in toney restaurants as long as they're fairly clean and wearing clothes and have credit cards.

The true raison d'etre of the modern lawn is signalling. Since the lawn itself is no longer used for the grazing of livestock and only occasionally for recreational purposes, the odd croquet game on July 4th, it's real purpose is ostentation. A useless and unnecessary expense is the ultimate signal of wealth. More acreage implies more wealth.  The best signal is a large grounds maintained by a well-paid landscaping company. No one of high status personally mows their own lawn.

     Middle class suburbanites cherish their lawns as an indication that they've moved up from the concrete and asphalt surroundings of the inner city, even though the city dwellers probably spend more time outside. The typical man on the cul de sac fights traffic on his way to work in the city, spends the day there, fights even worse traffic home, kicks back before the one-eyed monster, eats, slugs back a few beers and then retires so he can do it again the next day. A couple of times a week he might pull the Lawn Boy out of the garage to clip the Bermuda grass but that's the extent of his commune with nature, such as it is.

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