Saturday, August 13, 2022 Aug 13, 2022
95° F Dallas, TX


By Chris Tucker |

Three years ago we bought a yard.

Now hold on. I know yards are not for everyone. As a longtime apartment dweller, I remember vividly the typical renter’s reaction to a “nice” yard. Your host hustles you into the back yard, expectation splashed across his face, his eyes leading yours to gaze this way and that. He waits. You wait. Something is strange. You ask for a beer. He brings it, a little annoyed.

“Notice anything different?” he says.

His hair is unchanged. . .he hasn’t lost weight… and then you notice some green and yellow blobs of plant life that might not have been there last time, so you take a chance:

“Hey, all right, new, uh, whayacallum, uh, really nice green color, Bob… Hey, when do we eat?”

Anyway, as I was saying, three years ago we bought a yard. The yard came with a perfectly serviceable house, but it was an afterthought. From the first moment my wife gazed through the arbor with its ancient honeysuckle and saw the pear tree wearing a cloud of snowy white blooms, we were hooked on the yard. And, believe it or not, the yard work.

Frankly, I never thought that I’d come to love something so utterly square, something that so neatly defines middle class. Not after spending years playing in rock bands; not after pursuing degrees in literature, studying and admiring people who are impossible to imagine behind a mower.

Frank Zappa spreading peat moss in a flower bed? F. Scott Fitzgerald clipping the dwarf nandinas? Edgar Allan Poe buying a flat of marigolds at the nursery? I can’t picture Ernest Hemingway peering down the barrel of a weed eater. In fact, Ozzie Nelson would be more the type to stroll over for a cup of bone meal and a chat about those pesky leaf miners. But you’ve got to listen to your heart on these things. Yardwork always leaves me feeling tranquil, happy, and slightly creative. So come on over, Oz.

1 generally avoid talking yards with strangers or even friends. It’s not the sort of thing you’re likely to make many converts over. Either you find a way to love the task for itself, or it’s tike being sent to hell every few days from March to October. And some people will take you for a braggart, as if you’re just preening about a new coat or an expensive car.

The truth is, most yard people know better than to tie up their egos in something that is at the mercy of broiling summers and marauding insects and these absurd winters we’ve been having. That’s why it doesn’t faze me when Howard Garrett, in his valuable Plants of the Metropiex, denounces the popular euonymous shrubs as “plants for people who wear leisure suits.” Hey, I’m not embarrassed. Not me. I only have 20 of the damned things.

The yard lover may sound like just another materialist, but he or she is really talking about more than mere stuff, saleable assets. A fine yard, it seems to me, is more like a thoroughbred racehorse than it is like a swimming pool or a new Porsche: You can never fully understand it, much less master it. In a real sense we own nothing we cannot make, so we can never “own” a living thing, be it made of flesh or of cellulose and chlorophyll. At best we are tenants together, sharing the view for a little while.

Still, I can’t help feeling some proprietorial pride as I gaze over a newly planted bed of English ivy or watch the invading armies of well-watered St. Augustine gradually choke out the upstart Bermuda. (Yes, I know Bermuda is better adapted to Dallas summers, but I don’t have to like it.) That feeling of ownership, without getting too Puritan-ethical about it, is justified only by work. Since my blood (rosebush thorns) and sweat (buckets) and tears (almost) have fallen on this yard, I’ve developed a bond with it that goes beyond merely signing papers and making a payment each month. It’s somewhat akin, on a smaller scale, to what old-time farmers must have felt. Nurturing the land, even a small city yard, you are somehow changed for the better. My brother owns a first-class lawn service, but I resist using him except when we’re out of town, I fear that once the job was in someone else’s hands, I’d lose my rights of ownership in this deeper sense, and soon be left with nothing but a deed to some property.

We can’t get too romantic about all this. Tending a lawn is not exactly like harvesting 5,000 acres of com or trekking the Yukon. Yards are a kind of intersection between civilization and untamed Nature, and that’s just fine with this city person. And with apologies to the nature poets, even in a mostly civilized yard there is no “harmony” in nature. As Woody Allen once said, it’s one big smorgasbord out there. We were unable to harmonize with the 4-foot-long water moccasin who came slithering up from the creek one day. Erosion on the creek bank threatens two large trees. Our cedar elms throw a net of shade over half the yard-fine for cooling off humans, but no good for the turf grass in the dark corners or the ill-fated oleander, may it rest in peace, that stretched like an anemic ballerina in its search for the sun.

The hardest thing is to love your yard without becoming a Yard Nazi, forcing the One True Way of Yardism on others. In a pluralistic society, people are entitled to their own choices. We must remember that many people live decent, righteous lives without ever hitting a lick in their yards.

Or is that being too nice? Except for the sick and elderly, couldn’t we argue that there’s a civic if not a moral duty to keep your lawn in order, if only because other people have to look at it? The worst lawns I’ve seen are like middle fingers flashed at the neighbors, a brazen cry of total disdain for the communal good. Are we wrong to wonder about the inner lives of people who present such appalling exteriors to the world?

Alas, we have a couple of slackers in our neighborhood. They look young and healthy, but they won’t turn a hand. My wife and 1 had long seethed over their unsightly patch, so when I came home one day to find a “Please Mow Me” sign stuck in their jungle of weeds, 1 figured she had finally snapped and launched a counterattack. No, not at all; she figured I was the provocateur. Turned out it was a neighbor. These yard people stick together, you know.

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