Skip to main content

Breaking the Lawn! Breaking the Lawn!

This year, I'm back to work on healing the land, one square foot at a time. After I bought my house over a decade ago, and before I had a child, I created and maintained an ambitious food garden in my back yard. That practice was satisfying, productive, and educational. It fulfilled my desires to grow organic food, carry on beloved family traditions, and reduce the size of my suburban turf lawn. I'm one of those people who feel that domestic lawns (unless you are actually using them for activities like touch football or something) are obsolete relics of a time when most people weren't aware or didn't care about their impacts on the natural world, including whether they were poisoning their own air, water, and soil

I have enthusiastically joined the movement toward replacing lawns with more beautiful, functional, and healthy landscaping that supports and enhances all of life (human health, floral abundance, native pollinators, birds, butterflies, etc.) without requiring endless filthy, death-dealing chores. As the wife and mother of people with asthma or serious allergies triggered by air pollution, it's personally urgent for me to avoid gas-powered lawn equipment whenever possible. While I can't control what my neighbors do, I can "tend my own garden" and set a good example.

This spring, I've begun tearing up a good portion of my front lawn, which is already bordered along two sides by a little "grove" of three apple trees (whose trunks are surrounded by mostly violets and clover instead of grass that needs mowing) and decorative garden beds filled with mostly-native perennials. My back yard is no longer suitable for vegetable gardening due to the growth of large, gorgeous, shady, nut-and-fruit-bearing trees (that I want to keep, of course!). Also, when I dug my garden beds back there in the past, it was extra difficult due to the heavy clay soil thickly embedded with ancient river rocks and--weirdly enough--trash (old bricks, cinder blocks, concrete fragments, broken pots, rusty knives, corroded lighters, liquor bottles, etc.) because, according to neighborhood lore, my house was built on a filled-in gully that was used as an unofficial dumping site when my suburb was a rural area more than a half-century ago. Lovely! I've been curious about whether the earth in my front yard might be less... trashy.

The front yard certainly receives more sunshine throughout the day, and it's somewhat more protected from deer and other garden-gobbling wild animals, who make themselves at home in my back yard but don't tend to linger in front, near the noisy street. As I've begun slicing into my front yard, I've found that the topsoil looks wholesome and rich with happy earthworms, thanks in part to more than a decade of us not using pesticides or other toxic chemicals on the grass. Just underneath that layer, though, there is--a whole lot of trash. It's amazing how much trash. Seriously, my land would make a great archaeological dig one day. About a foot and a half down, I can hardly get a shovel into the earth due to all the rubble and glass bottles and gigantic sheets of half-rotted plastic. I'm half relieved and half disappointed with every trench that I dig and don't find a human skeleton.

This only makes me feel more determined, however, in my mission to clean up this land that has been trashed and abused for so long, one little square foot at a time. So far I'm not finding any electronics waste or containers that might have held hazardous materials (just food and drink containers), so I'm not too worried about growing food crops in my front yard. That said, I am playing it safe by amending the soil generously with compost and only planting crops that pose a low risk of taking up pollutants into their edible parts. I'll plant the street-facing edge with big, happy sunflowers, which are champions at cleaning toxins from soil and will also serve aesthetic and pollinator-feeding purposes. Rows of heirloom sweet corn will fill most of the bed, and its northern edge will support a row of cornstalk-climbing, locally developed Potawatomi beans (magenta and white spotted lima beans) traditionally grown in this area of Michigan by, you guessed it, Potawatomi people (who have mostly been forcibly relocated to other states, where the local seed company I bought my beans from sends a portion of their annual seed beans to tribal programs for reclaiming traditional food growing practices. In addition to the value of sending seeds to the original people who developed this crop, it is also valuable to return some of the beans to their own native soil. (It's horrible that those two actions must be taken separately, but here we are.) Plants that evolved in a particular local environment tend to grow better in their homelands, requiring less water and other resources and providing greater benefits to the flora and fauna with which they have developed symbiotic relationships over hundreds or thousands of years. 

I feel like there are so many seeds of restorative justice in every shovelful of earth I'm turning over, cleaning by hand, amending with organic compost, and planting with earth-nourishing flora. And there is even more restoration in the wild areas I keep in my back yard to support my gardens--the compost pile, the stick piles, the wildly overgrown borderlands that provide habitat for snakes, toads and frogs, gnarly spiders, pest-snarfing birds, and other helpful wildlife. It is good, in a world that can be chaotic and tragic, to be a good steward of my little ark.

Already, I'm hearing a lot of questions from neighbors hollering at me from their own properties or the sidewalk across the street about what the heck I'm doing. At this stage in the process, it looks absolutely insane. And so I answer, 

Breaking the lawn! Breaking the lawn!

I'm living that punk ass, bog witch style, rock-moving, sod-rolling life out in the fresh air, and you can too!

Whether or not you're interested in growing food crops, there are many ways to transform a boring, noxious lawn into an enchanting garden that requires less maintenance than a wasteland of turf in the long term. Even if you live in a fancier neighborhood with strict rules on how you must groom your property, there are ways that you can make improvements to your curb appeal, personal health, and environmental footprints by following the links in this post for a variety of alternatives to a midcentury-style Hank Hill lawn.

Power to the people! Praises to the Earth!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be: You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")    35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't

TBT: The Magic of Essential Oils

Oh essential oils, beloved friend of loopy-goopy women of my own demographic marketing cohort, along with magic crystals, mystic doulas, organic pesticides, multi-level-marketed leggings, anything labeled as "herbal supplements," and alternatives to vaccination. The essential oil craze is something that has a basis in scientifically verifiable reality but has been endowed with magical, holy, pseudo-scientific properties for marketing purposes. I bought into it wholeheartedly before I learned that not all that crunches is harmless. All too often, legitimate fears based in reality (of toxic chemicals, unnecessary medical interventions, pharmaceutical side effects, etc.) are stoked to induce women like me to jump from the frying pan and into the fire of an "alternative" that may be at least as harmful as what it is supposedly protecting me and my family from. I still use certain essential oils for cleaning and other purposes, and I think everything I've stated in t

$Monday: Bog Witch Style on a Budget

Autumn in a pandemic is the perfect time to tap into your inner bog witch with wild hair, cozy clothes, forest rituals, creepy cats, fire, books of spells, and Dark Cottagecore home decor mood boards on Pinterest . You don't have to live in a literal swamp. The word "bog" comes from a Gaelic term for "soft," and it sounds nearly identical to Slavic words for gods or divinity with Proto-Slavic roots that refer to earthly fortune. Bog witches burrow into the true goodness of life nestled beneath all the hustle and polish and show of making a living. They focus on soft wealth and spiritual power. The vibe is slow, earthy, comfy, moody, sneakily seductive, maybe sticky, wise rather than smart, preferring old things to new, charming rather than impressive. It's about harmonizing with the natural environment, blending, melting, enveloping, and sinking into earthy, downward energy. Bog witchery vibes with hygge, friluftsliv , and the indigenous earth wisdom of whe

The Pandemic Turned My Church Outside and Online

The pandemic might have permanently pushed my church outdoors and online--even after we can come inside again. The radically inclusive church that I work for, UU Lansing , has adapted so successfully over the past year that we've learned how to make better use of technology to reach more people; we've found creative ways to accomplish more effective community care without putting people at risk of disease transmission; and we've connected more deeply than ever with our land and local ecosystem.  As Molly Costello has illustrated with her generously shared activist artwork : Crisis expands our imaginations around what is possible. I'm so grateful right now to be a part of a respectably longstanding faith tradition that never wastes an opportunity to learn a hard lesson and transform itself from the inside out. Unlike some centuries-old religious institutions, Unitarianism (and its more recently evolved form, Unitarian Universalism) had open-mindedness and adaptability

Pocket of Joy: Coming Out

Happy Pride Month! Has it ever been a better time to come out? Lil Nax X has died for our shame, descended into hell on a stripper pole, and slain the devil with his lap dance. Tig Notaro has conquered the undead and possibly usurped Kate McKinnon as most badass comedic lesbian paranormal action hero, which is now A Thing. "Schitt's Creek" has normalized pansexuality and revived America's faith in all kinds of enduring romantic love. Elliot Page has freed the trans man nips in joyful thirst traps on Instagram. After a year in quarantine, drag queens Trixie and Katya have become everyone's imaginary best friends. And my Instagram feed is sprinkled with videos of happily married, openly HIV-positive Jonathan Van Ness doing the happiest gorgeous little back flips. Kids today have all of these pop culture examples of people of every gender identity and sexual orientation living their best lives, creating joy and sharing it with others. Sadly, the danger in coming out

Pocket of Joy: Human Touch

Are you vaxxed, relaxxed, and ready to satiate your touch starvation ? It is time! All human persons need skin-to-skin contact sometimes, even those who value their personal space. It doesn't have to be sexual or intense, but we can't do without it indefinitely. The gentle, electric exchange that occurs between two animal bodies that meet in meatspace boosts our immune systems. It calms the vagus nerve, the heart, experiences of both physical and emotional pain, and the release of the stress hormone cortisol. It stimulates the release of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. Going without touch for too long can lead to depression, anxiety, and behaviors that exacerbate social isolation. And loneliness can erode bodily health faster than cigarettes. All humans need touch, but it doesn't always have to be human-to-human. Pets can provide beneficial snuggles and wrassles to a person who lives alone. Volunteering at an animal shelter and petting kittens and puppies to socialize th

Vaxxed and Unmasked for Margaritas with Alice

My dear friend Magdalena has always had a special talent for sniffing out delicious secrets. She's an outgoing, bold, colorful woman, but she keeps an eye on the quiet people. She has a knack for glancing over a bunch of same-same-looking folks, breezing past all the dull sad sacks, and picking out the socially camouflaged, melancholy few who seem to be harboring some kind of romantic ennui, guarded eccentricity, or rich private life that they aren't eager to share. And then she goes after those people with the focus of a truffle pig on the scent and won't stop until they reveal themselves to her and let her love them! I had the pleasure of meeting Magda's latest conquest, a silver-haired lady I'll call Alice the Archivist, last weekend in my very first post-lockdown public group hangout (everyone 100% vaccinated!). The following is my understanding of how Magda infiltrated her personal bubble and founded the official Alice Fan Club. Alice is Magda's next-door a

Pocket of Joy: Close Grandparents

One of the best decisions I ever made in my life was to settle close to my parents before having a child. I even convinced my parents to move right into my neighborhood after they retired, a ten-minute walk from my backyard, and everyone in my family has benefited from the arrangement . Grandparents and grandchildren are great for each other's physical, mental, and emotional health. And the support grandparents can provide in helping to care for and raise a child benefits the child's parents. Over the past year, I think we all realized just how important it is for parents to have reliable and safe childcare, and unfortunately our nation has some work to do to provide for the needs of working class families. Those of us fortunate enough to have parents who are willing and able to help us care for our children are blessed indeed. Close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren create well-being and resilience in every generation of the family. It is wonderful to have

How to Make a Grill Out of a Log

Over the past few years, our local power company has had to cut down several trees on or near our property that someone in the past had, according to an inexplicable mid-Michigan tradition, planted in a row directly beneath a power line, resulting in a very slow-motion disaster. By the time the power company finally cut down the trees, some of them had already died, and some had been severely damaged in the past couple of ice storms. We were grateful to see them taken down at no personal expense to us, and we were also glad to have the firewood left on our property because we have both an indoor wood stove and a backyard fire pit. But it turned out to be a lot, and the utility workers left the tree trunks in hearty slices about the size of end tables, which have proved laborious for us to split, especially as a couple of the larger trees were tough old elms. Happily, we have found a couple of uses for them that don't require us to wrestle with their knotty old fibers: outdoor end t

Endo Belly Dance

Later this summer, I have an ultrasound scheduled to begin the process of maybe, finally, diagnosing the endometriosis that I believe I have. Sometimes I feel like my belly is busted. At different times in my life, I've had different abdominal issues at varying degrees of severity. They started in my teens and changed with different stages of biological development, different dietary habits, different exercise routines, and different levels of stress. They were relieved by pregnancy but made childbirth tough. They returned a couple years after I gave birth and have evolved over the past decade. And now that I'm in my late 30s, I have collected some strategies under my belt (yeah that's a mom joke, ha ha) for managing my belly issues in between medical interventions. The most fun and consistently effective practice I've tried is belly dance. I first tried out belly dance in college, when an older friend taught a brief workshop. I only learned a few basic hip movements, b