Friday, April 25, 2008

On Not Keeping Up With The Joneses

It's spring yard work season, when I focus on trying to stay ahead of the weeds in hopes of averting disaster later in the summer. I'm not a competitive grass grower, but out of respect for my neighbors I try to keep the front lawn looking reasonably nice, as in mowed, trimmed, and weeded. Most years I have put a dose of weed-and-feed on to knock back the dandelions. Isn't it funny that people don't like them? Such a cheerful yellow, and they look wonderful mixed with all the violets! Yes, I have biodiversity in my lawn. No one seems to mind the violets, but oh, those dandelions are evil. They exemplify a household too lazy to get out and dig them!
But nowadays no one actually digs them; they are nuked with chemicals, either applied by the homeowner (in my case), or by a lawn service (in the case of most of my neighbors). After all, we are all about saving time while maintaining curb-appeal.

I was going to take care of that little task this weekend, until I started reading "Living Downstream". By the third chapter, Sandra Steingraber's evidence on the relationship between cancer and herbicides/pesticides was giving me pause. No, actually, it was giving me chills. I could picture all those chemicals being washed into the storm drain in front of my house during the next little rain we have.
From there, the water would wind up kitty-corner from my house in a drainage swail that runs through Mattis Park.

It still looks nice and clean at this point. When I went to take this picture I gave Mr. and Mrs. Mallard quite a fright, and they frantically tried to lead me away from their nest. And, just as my own children did, there must have been someone catching tadpoles down there recently, judging by the orange Little League cap caught in the gravel. When I have walked past this area, I have often seen muskrats, ducks, frogs, Canada Geese, and even herons. It does have many of the hallmarks of a "wetland". I remember when I was a girl, this part of the neighborhood was still open fields, and this particular spot was always a little swamp. Later, the city ditched and drained it to put in the road. They left a little flood plain along the ditch, which is good, because it definitely still gets full to the brim when we have a big rain.

Without this ditch my basement would be wet about 2/3 of the year. That's because this is the very spot on the county watershed map that is designated as the headwaters of the Embarass River. From here the water goes down to a man-made retention pond, and then, ultimately wanders in the form of the Embarass over toward the Wabash, then the Ohio, then the Mississippi, then the Gulf of Mexico. And along the way, it gathers a lot of fertilizer and pesticides running off lawns and fields

The Embarass isn't the only river affected by all of us in Champaign-Urbana. At this very point in the county are located the headwaters of both the Kaskaskia watershed and the Vermillion watershed, as well as the Embarass. It sure doesn't look like it, but we are actually high ground here, thanks to the glacier, and all the water runs away downhill from us. All the oil that drips out of our cars, all the trash that blows into the the creeks and ditches, all the lawn care chemicals that are used here in this town, are headed off to the Gulf.

So, you see, I and my immediate neighbors get first crack at polluting the Embarass. And today, I just decided I'm not going to have any part of it. I'll do my best to keep ahead of the dandelions, but if you drive past and see a few little golden twinkles in my lawn, please don't write me off as a slacker. I'm not trying to bring the neighborhood down. Hopefully, our children and grandchildren will benefit from my tolerance of those weeds. Bring them over, and I'll let them pick a bouquet for you!


Donna said...

Good for you! Did you know that you can make a salad out of those little greens? Not that I've ever been brave enough to try it myself. :)

Joyce said...

Donna, when I was going through what my husband calls my Laura Ingalls Wilder stage, I DID try to feed my family dandelion greens. They had a fit! I don't know if I waited too late in the season or what, but they were very bitter. You should have seen the faces the kids made!

Nan - said...

Good, good, good for you!! This whole lawn chemical thing is really bad, and I'm so proud of you!! My mom used to dig dandelion greens, as did my aunt, and everyone else I knew. I do find them occasionally in the local health food store. I love dandelions, the flowers, that is. A woman once said to me that if they were rare, we would all treasure them. You might like to read this:

Joyce said...

Nan, I love dandelions, too. When I was a kid I loved to blow the seed heads into the wind, and when my children were little they always were so cute when they brought me a bouquet, that I didn't have the heart to tell them that I was allergic to them!
Thanks for the recipe idea. I'm going to try that, and see if my husband can guess what I've put in it.

arduous said...

I never understood the killing dandelions either. I always thought they were so pretty, how could they be a weed?!

Joyce said...

arduous-What's the difference between a "wildflower", which we love, and a "weed", which we nuke? I don't know!

CindyW said...

Congrats! Excellent decision! And dandelions, those dandelions. My toddlers and I love them and never get tired of blowing the seeds off and watching them fly away (thus making more dandelions :) ).

I don't really understand the obsession with perfectly manicured lawns, so uptight, so not natural. A friend sent me a comic strip today, quite appropriate to your post:

Joyce said...

Cindy, just don't let your toddlers blow those seeds on the neighbor's lawn, or you may invite more chemicals! Seriously, I like a pretty swath of green grass, but I never have watered, so it always goes dormant for a while in midsummer. And as for the perfect monoculture, to me, if it's green, just mow it and forget it!
The cartoon is cute, and so true. There are so many things we do just because we want to look normal. I'm not much of a rebel, but it's good to stand back every once in a while and ask "why?".

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Great advise about the pesticides. Those dandelions are now probably managable since you have been nuking in the past and will be easily managed with a little sweat equity.

The greens are as many greens best when young and cooked with a little seasoning. Here in the south that means bacon drippings and onions. Ha... Those little yellow heads can be tossed into salads for a little color too. Most people won't eat them but they are pretty and not poisonous.

We live near the Embarrass river. Our little town is acutually located on the Wabash but the Embarrass is just a 15minute drive over by the small IL town of Lawrenceville.

Joyce said...

Lisa, it sounds like you treat the greens just like spinach. I'll give it a try.
I love checking out your blog. I've been lurking there for a while. I guess, though you are a little south of us, your area resembles mine enough that I can realte to your gardening advetures.