The birds are singing! The senses thrill at the promise of a new season! There is that earthy smell of growing things and that strange sensation of warmth as the clouds part for the first time in months. This is, after all, Portland. This is where the mothers of children born last September take their infants outside and point skyward saying, “Look! See! Can you say ‘sun’?” This is the city where people look forward to summer in the reckless hope that maybe this year it will fall on a weekend—and that there will be no yard work to do on those days.
Fat chance. This year has sabotaged me from the start. An all too familiar convergence of circumstance has conspired to keep me tethered like a beast of burden to my yard through the summer and well into the fall.
First, this rainy season has blessed us with enough dampness on our 50 X 100 foot homestead to justify nominating moss as the official plant of Multnomah County. Bert Verden, the neighborhood lawn expert—there’s one on every street—says that there is only one cure for a moss harvest as abundant as mine: douse the lawn with a chemical made by dissolving about ten pounds of steel wool in a gallon of dish soap, then do something called “thatching.”
The term, thatching, caused me to imagine small native villages with clusters of little grass huts. Actually, the process is quite a different matter. Thatching is accom- plished by a gas-powered device that looks like a lawn mower but has infinitely more destructive potential. One relatively clueless homeowner can lay waste to one 5000 square foot lot in about ten minutes, leaving a swath of mangled turf to rival the Chernobyl disaster.
No need to wonder how I know this. It is because of my wife, Judy. She looked at me with those beseeching eyes and said, “I would just love a wonderful looking lawn this year….” What could I do? I love her. I want her to be happy. I picture her coming out of our front door, a broad smile on her face as she stoops to smell the fragrance of our ornamental garden. So, I quite naturally went out, rented a thatcher, and destroyed the front lawn. I am hoping that it greens up before the annual Rose Festival deluge. It hasn’t looked this bad since the county made us install new sewers on our street.
The heavy equipment had finally moved out and the paving trucks had made the neighborhood look a little less like a bombing range. Then a marauding band of sewer connectors moved into the neighborhood. On the doors of all of the houses they left brochures promising “fast, friendly, sewer hookups.” Some even offered group discounts if several people in the neighborhood would agree to hire them for a “package deal.” Some neighborhoods have block parties. We created a sewer co-op.
Several of us hired an independent contractor with a name something like “Speedy Sam’s Sewer Systems.” Sam offered a great price as long as we agreed to do our own clean up. That meant that when he was done creating long trenches all over the neighborhood and had filled them back up again we had to do the lawn repair. This is how you can tell the difference between the rich suburbanites and the wish-we-were rich suburbanites. The rich ones hire a sewer company that sneaks into the neighborhood at night and silently installs the sewer without disturbing the daffodils. We hired a company that mounted a full-scale mechanized assault and left our lawns looking like the winter pasture of a herd of Caribou.
Now He Tells Me!
Bert “Better Homes & Gardens” Verden, tells me that the reason my thatching efforts had a similar result to our sewer installation was that I thatched too early.
“Prob’ly should’ve waited ‘til early May” he said as I hosed down the machine, and wiped mud off my face. “It’s better if it’s a little drier.”
It’s axiomatic that a know-it-all neighbor will show up just after you needed him.
I never understood why people put red cinder rock all over their yard. Now I know. Unfortunately, Judy’s idea of a pretty lawn with lots of colorful flowers doesn’t square with covering every arable inch of soil with black plastic and spreading it with gravel.
So I sit on our front porch, smelling the good earth, smug in the confidence that I won’t have any grass to mow for a long time, but not having any idea how to resurrect the disaster that is my yard. I suspect it’s going to take a lot of work. Why else would they change the clocks in the spring. Some of us are going to need that extra hour of “Daylight Slaving Time.”