Poa pratensis. Most of us know it as Kentucky bluegrass. It’s the tiny seed that feeds America’s obsession with the great trans-continental lawn. Is there any other genus in the plant kingdom that even comes close to inspiring such deep and enduring passion or such quiet but insistent community pressure and controversy? The monochromatic lushness, the dream of velvety carpet-like perfection, the ideal manicured height, the unspoken demand for maintaining the appearance of shared community. Pity the poor patch of grass weighted down by so many expectations.
Just think about the countless hours of mowing. The money spent season after season on grass seed, fertilizer, and the unfortunate, heedless application of gallons of toxic herbicides. The truth is, though, the great green American lawn represents something greater than the sum of its parts. That something is the Arcadian dream first imagined by the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted when he imagined a green expanse stretching from sea to sea, symbolizing as it crowded out every other plant in the kingdom a shared vision of community with a sprinkling of democratized aesthetics.
Let me be clear. Right now—less than two weeks before the most divisive election this country has experienced in modern times—I think all of us could use a soothing dose of shared community spirit.
However, if the perfectly greened, perfectly mowed, weed-free American lawn is the be-all and end-all of community spirit—the sine qua non of the American illusion of social cohesion—count me out. Don’t bother traveling to my patch of lawn world. You’ll find that that particular brand of community spirit has gone missing.
For when it comes to the topic of lawns and the great American carpet of unblemished perfection, I must admit I inhabit a place somewhere far off the beaten path, somewhere out there in libertarian land. Where my lawn is concerned, live and let live is my motto. Dandelions, crab grass, ground ivy, Dutch clover, chickweed, broadleaf plantain, henbit, oxalis, prickly lettuce, common purslane, wild violets – my lawn’s got biodiversity up the wazoo. Of the fourteen most common lawn weeds in the Northeast, my property scores a thirteen—with all of them scrambling to find the perfect niche or self-propagating dominance in what could be seen by the cynic (me) as the botanical equivalent of lebensraum. (Crab grass, you devil on earth, you know it’s you I’m talking about.) The fact is my lawn resembles the United Nations of weeds.
My lawn areas – front, side, and back– represent an in-gathering of the weeds that most patriotic Americans fight to the death, acting as if lawn weeds represent an enemy as threatening to the American way of life as hordes of illegal immigrants pouring across the borders or embedded terrorist organizations. And the weapon of choice in America’s lawn war? That would be glyphosate – more commonly known to the lawn perfectionist as Round-Up. You heard it here first: my embrace of the United Nations of weeds is really not a signal of my love of the color, the shapes, and the mingling of the diversity of the plant kingdom. My embrace is a quiet campaign to demonstrate my opposition to the slow and steady poisoning of those things we pretend to hold dear and truly depend on: the land that feeds us, the waters that sustain us, and our very bodies themselves.
And if you think my symbolic act of protest against this particular expression of community spirit appears a bit unhinged, the next time you purchase your weed-killing arsenal, consider this:
- Glyphosate is the most heavily used weed killer in human history.
- Glyphosate has been found in the urine of 93% of Americans tested for the pesticide.
- Seventeen of the world’s top cancer researchers voted to elevate the cancer profile of glyphosate on behalf of the World Health Organization.
- The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”