Appropriately, I think, for a late-twentieth-century human with an indoors job, I have mixed feelings about the outdoors: it's utterly wonderful and the fact that there are people who routinely despoil it annoys me no end, but I don't want to get too close to it either.

Just outside my own doors there is grass. Lots of grass. After two years of neglect I got back into something resembling weed control, and after two years of drought we're now awash in soil moisture, so the stuff has been growing tall and green for most of the year. I go to a certain amount of trouble and expense to keep its health and its appearance up to speed — my rule of thumb has always been never to have either the best lawn or the worst lawn on the block, and this year, unlike the last two, I'm closer to "best" — and that trouble and expense, because it is trouble and expense, causes a certain amount of resentment. So I have mixed feelings about this blanket of green.

Still, there's a dim realization that I can't separate myself from Nature for very long. (Every now and then, Nature chooses to force the issue, and just incidentally remind everyone who's boss.) The first spring at the palatial estate at Surlywood, I took an opportunity to bask in the sunlight, lying on a towel in the back yard. This is Back to Nature at a distance of, well, however thick that towel was, which wasn't very. Despite high albedo — it had been a long winter, and I was, in the late Johnny Carson's phrase, "the color of a born gosling" — I was browning nicely and evenly, and I felt myself part of this marvelous ecosystem.

And then I looked off to the side, and saw much of the rest of this marvelous ecosystem massing just beyond the edge of the towel: things that buzzed and flew, things that slithered and crawled; things, in general, I didn't want encroaching on my space. I clambered back to my feet, and the next time I'd bask in the sun, I'd bring a full-fledged blanket, for no other reason than that it created a larger buffer zone between me and Those.

This is hardly the fault of the grass, of course: it merely provides a working environment for those critters. And it does so whether I pay attention to it or not: as Vera Nazarian once pointed out, "In the plains the grass grows tall, since there is no one to cut it. There is no one to water it either." Then again, Vera Nazarian once exposed Mr. Darcy's "dreadful secret" in the Jane Austen sendup Pride and Platypus, which makes me wonder just how unbiased an observer she might be.

And it's not like I can't (occasionally) see things for myself. Grass, presumably unintentionally, is the enemy of city concrete: it wedges its way into nooks and crannies and expansion joints, and in no time at all turns dirty white into placid green. Or maybe it's not so unintentional, since grass can and will complain about how you treat it:

The fresh, "green" scent of a just-mowed lawn is the lawn trying to save itself from the injury you just inflicted. Leafy plants release a number of volatile organic compounds called green leaf volatiles (GLVs). When the plants are injured, whether through animals grazing on them, you cutting or mowing them, or even just unintentionally rough handling, these emissions increase like crazy.

Which may or may not have inspired Jeff Rovin to incorporate into his mock guidebook The Transgalactic Guide to Solar System M-17 a species of, well, intelligent grass, and carnivorous intelligent grass at that. If such a species exists, I suspect it will be introduced into our ecosystem by one of those lamebrained embarrassed-to-be-human types who resent the hell out of the idea that one person (such as yours truly) can live on a quarter-acre surrounded by actual grass: they're just spiteful enough to pull it off, and not foresighted enough to envision the consequences. I take comfort, however, in the knowledge that the grass will grow over his grave just as surely as it will over mine.

The Vent

  1 September 2013

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 Copyright © 2013 by Charles G. Hill