Last week I wrote about things I see while writing from my front porch. I’ll stay with the topic for one more week. Today I made the annual observation that my yard is the first in the neighborhood to get large brown patches come late summer. A few of my neighbors are as reluctant to water their lawns as I am, but their yards stay green longer. The problem with my grass is more than a lack of rain. The original owner skimped on putting down black dirt, so my yard doesn’t have enough topsoil for a deep root system. Beneath a thin layer of fertile ground is nothing but the porous sand of an ancient riverbed.
The melting waters at the end of the last Ice Age rushed down the Mississippi River Valley, creating a river channel many miles wide. Once the glacial floodwaters receded, the river became the much, much narrower waterway we know today, and every river town on the Upper Mississippi sits atop land that was once a sandy prehistoric river bottom. My dried out yard is the result of 1) a thrifty homebuilder from the 1950s, 2) a water-conscious homeowner in 2020, and 3) a major geologic event that happened over ten thousand years ago.
When I think about lawn care in general, I think back to the first time I visited my friend Ed after he’d purchased a house on the Oakland/Berkeley border. As is the norm in the San Francisco Bay Area, he did not have much lawn, but did have shrubbery and various forms of ground cover. Ed is a person who ordinarily would be critical of someone with a manicured yard, so I was surprised to see that his shrubs were trimmed and his ground cover carefully edged where it met the sidewalk. When I told Ed that I wouldn’t have thought he would care about such things, he said, “I don’t. A week after I moved in, an old Filipino guy who didn’t speak much English showed up and just started working in the yard. No one had told him the owners had changed, and I don’t have the heart to fire him.”