If you have a beautiful, evenly-cut, deep green lawn that is your pride and joy, then I think you may be in on "it."
Don't ask me to explain what "it" is because I'm pretty sure that I am not in on "it." All I know is that in a matter of inches grass changes in my neighborhood. On one side of the line is my neighbor's yard that is, every day, freshly mowed and manicured, and on the other side of the property is my yard that looks like something that grew up in an abandoned Denny's parking lot.
When it comes to lawn care, there are clearly some strange things afoot in my world. I spent most of my life in Washington state where it is either raining or it's about to rain. Where I came from, if the sun comes out and threatens to burn our lawns, we just let them toast. None of my neighbors had built-in sprinkler systems. That would be like putting a bowl of water in your fish tank so the fish have something to drink. It would just be foolish.
When we moved to Logan, we knew all that was going to have to change. Some of our neighbors hire people to take care of their lawns. A crew shows up, unloads and in an hour or so they have made everything look very respectable. It's like the "Cat in the Hat" in real life. It didn't take us long to realize that we were living in a grown-up neighborhood full of respectable people.
Unlike life for my neighbors, there is nothing about our yard that happens automatically. It's true we have an in-ground, automatic sprinkler system but it doesn't automatically turn on. In fact, every year we have to hire someone to come and figure out what is wrong with it. It takes us about a week to give up fixing it on our own and by that time the only thing that is alive in our lawn are the weeds, which are spreading like tiny vegetarian land mines all across our yard.
Eventually we invite someone to look at our perplexing problem and they mumble something about turning our water on, flip a toggle switch and then they go. In all fairness, I must say that this year the person who helped us get our water going wasn't grumpy. He just kept laughing to himself. We had concluded the water switch was in this deep tube-like hole in our front yard that turned out to be a "sewage back-lash overflow, defcon decatherter." We had accused his company of causing the problem by turning a switch off deep in this hole just to force us to hire them to come back and fix it for us. They had done no such thing.
(Now I'm grateful for the deep hole because if I had been able to turn it off I might have suddenly launched a sewer geyser in front of my house, which would not look good when contrasted with the lovely pond and waterfall my neighbor features in his perfect yard across the street.)
Just turning on our dysfunctional sprinkler system is no guarantee that we are on the path to normalcy. Not even a little bit. Our inaugural sprinkler run would put any Las Vegas water fountain show to shame. They blast straight up in the air, or lean into our fence and spray off the paint like they are wayward Yellowstone geysers. Some of them just hold their breath for a few moments and blast all the water they can find in our house directly into the street. We live on a fairly busy street and when we hear cars honking we know our sprinkler system is on.
It's humiliating. When we bought the house the homeowner told us that people are always praising him for his plush green yard. Somehow we've unintentionally spoiled that. I didn't waste any time either. One of the first things I did when we moved here was unpack the lawnmower and mow the lawn. Unfortunately it took me about three trips around to realize that the lawn mower was on its lowest setting so I had effectively highlighted our unmowed lawn with a dirt path that drew a crowd of young people who wanted to know when the bike track would be open for business.
We wanted to be good neighbors so we hired a lawn service to fertilize the lawn, blow air on it, feed it grubs and poison weeds. Instead of matching the beauty around us, however, large clumps of excited weeds have sprung up in joyous weed explosions and it's like suddenly we've become home to the "Burning Man" festival for crab grass. We figured that these lawn care experts would fix that. They said no one knows how to kill crab grass but that if they didn't put down their mystery anti-weed formula, it would get far worse. We are talking the Democratic National Convention for weeds right in our front lawn. Apparently lawn care is a matter of faith in things that you hope for but can never see.
As the lawn has gotten worse, I've grown more impatient and at one point threatened our lawn care company that if they didn't fix our lawn we would put up a sign saying that they were the ones taking care of it. I know, I know, that was mean, so I didn't follow through. I just switched companies and now our lawn is getting worse and they are telling us the same thing about the invincibility of crab grass.
I'm dumfounded. I feel like pointing across the street and saying, "green and clean," to borrow a line from famous author Stephen Covey. If my neighbor's lawns are green and beautiful, why can't my lawn be the same? It's not like we live in a different time zones.
That's why I figure they are in on something that everyone on my street is in on and they aren't telling me. Why am I afflicted, tormented and cursed with blasting crab grass and a possessed sprinkler system? I know you probably think it's funny and entertaining, but it's not. It's a lawn tragedy.
But I have a warning for you. If you think you can drive by my house to gawk, point and laugh at surviving grass, there's only one thing I can say to you: You'd better keep your windows rolled up.
Steve Eaton lives and works in Logan, Utah. He can be reached at [email protected]