Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Notes From My Knapsack 06-05-05
Jeff Gill

The Lawn and Winding Road

Maintaining a diverse ecosystem is a good thing, right? We’ve all heard about the downside of monoculture, vast swaths of one plant across huge areas, vulnerable to so many ills and threats, any one of which can wreak havoc on the whole.
And no one alive today hasn’t heard that diversity is the modern watchword.
Not when it comes to lawns. The societal expectation is grass, lots of grass, kept even, green, and free of alien intruders . . . like the ones that have been here for thousands of years on prairies and forested river bottoms.
If I fertilize aggressively with broadleaf herbicides mixed in, I’m likely to go from mowing every five days as it is to mowing every other day. On the other hand, with dandelions, plantain, thistle, and the omnipresent clover, the grass may be edged out of the rich variety that is my front yard.
And as the Martian might say, on the other other hand, the Little Guy couldn’t have found a four-leaf clover in front of the house if we had a deep green even lawn.
Actually, I like the exercise of mowing regularly (since it makes me exercise regularly, for one thing) and getting the winter kinks out of my legs and back. A set of sharpened blades and a new air filter brings a happy roar from the red and grey grass chomper, now 13 years old and going strong, and the unmistakable scent of mown grass, nearly undescribable except as itself, says warm weather even when it isn’t so warm.
I call it a mix of onion and banana, smell wise, but your proboscis may differ.
Out away from houses and well maintained frontages, the forests have filled out to their max of foliage. On North Street in Hebron and below Swasey Chapel at Denison the catalpa trees have lit their torches high up, blossoming in stalks up where you have to crane your necks to see them. Likewise the yellow, or tulip poplars have their peach and orange and yellow flowers now, only visible to most of us when they fall to earth like a gift from on high. 70, 90, over a hundred feet above the forest floor, they mostly flower their brightest and widest where only the swifts and hawks can see.
The vertical depth of forest life, when phenomena like tulip poplar blossoms flutter into my awareness from above, always reminds me of the scene in “The Hobbit” when the dwarves and Bilbo are lost in Mirkwood.
The unlucky (he thinks) hobbit is picked to climb a high tree in the dense forest, trying to spy out where they are and which direction they should go, Mirkwood being very like the Ohio Simon Kenton first described where “a squirrel could travel a hundred feet off the ground from the Great River to the Great Lakes without touching ground.”
When Bilbo’s face first peeked out into sunlight climbing into the canopy of his fictional forest, he sees an ocean of treetops and leaves, undulating to the horizon in all directions. And he is heartened, oddly, by a few darkly colorful butterflies, violet-hued, living their lives in the sun while they marched in darkness far below, each mostly unaware of the other.
There is so much richness in everyday life just a few feet, or maybe a few hundred feet at most away from the ruts we tend to follow. Use this summer to climb a tree, or climb out of a rut, and check out the view. You might find a mysterious flower, an unseen butterfly, or make a friend.
Or read “The Hobbit” if you haven’t, or haven’t lately!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he and the Lovely Wife are telling some stories at Infirmary Mound Park on June 4 at 7 pm. You can tell him a story through

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