Manicured vs. Unruly

Autumn is my favorite season, but I’ve come to appreciate spring.  From my office – an old house turned into a biologist’s workspace – I can step out and feel the breeze which rustles the boughs of red cedars, holly, dogwood and pine.  The wildlife management area that I work from was originally put together by a wealthy individual as a bobwhite quail preserve.  Right around the living quarters of the place, it looks positively park-like.  Or rather, the front is park-like, with dogwoods, oaks, stately pines and various shrubs on a close-mown lawn.  On the back side, one finds tall pines, waving brown broomsedge, and a profusion of forbs and grasses – very natural for the area.  Quite a contrast, between manicured nature and its freer aspect!

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The tame side is managed with a riding mower; when ice or wind scatters limbs across the lawn or pavement, a front-loader comes around to collect them and neaten up the place.  Here one finds close-cropped grass and what forbs that manage to raise their flowers no more than a couple of inches (bluets being a common one).

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The wild side is managed less intensively, yet (to me) more agreeably.  Every other March, a low fire licks across the pine needles, fallen limbs and broomsedge.  Within a few weeks, green colors the blackened ground, and by Fall the golden grasses wave in the wind again.  I can kneel and with outstretched hands touch a dozen different species coexisting in the noonday sun.  And it is here and not the lawn where I hear bobwhites and see the leavings of rabbits and other critters.

I have friends who are fastidious when it comes to well-manicured, carpet-like lawns.  For some, the yard-carpet is a point of pride, while others mow only because of neighborhood peer pressure.  Some people water, fertilize, and herbicide their yards in exacting regimens in much the same way as a chef mixes his artisan masterpiece, all to reach the ultimate goal: a short, thick carpet comprised of a single species of grass and nothing else.  I never bought into the yard-as-hobby.  I have several grasses and a score of different forbs within my bawn.  For the most part, survival in that unwatered sand earns a spot, although mowing is deemed necessary to discourage venomous intruders.

I grant that there are times and places when it is in our interest to lay a heavy hand on the land.  But the artificiality of close-cropped turf and sharp-cornered hedges pleases me not half so much as the rustle of rabbits and fox squirrels hidden behind a broomsedge curtain.

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