Kermit is Wrong: It’s Easy Being Green

Brookline TAB, June 28, 2007

I live in a neighborhood that is green through and through. Ancient, green, leafy oak trees and maples. Rolling hills and long, verdant hedges bordering properties and streets. Even the people are green: Many of the GreenSpace Alliance, who do such admirable work building awareness about and actually cleaning up the Muddy River and the Emerald Necklace, live here.

And the lawns. Oh, the lawns! When we first moved in, seven years ago, the very first thing I noticed was how beautifully manicured was my neighborhood of Pill Hill, how green was my valley, er, hill. Even before we closed on the house, I went over and weeded the lawn and garden-like masses of vegetation. My house had suffered years of neglect in the past two decades before we bought it, having been a boarding house for graduate students. The robust plant life here had been allowed to run wild, the worst of which was a wisteria (sounds aptly like “hysteria,” illustrative of its fervor to encroach on your shingles, windows and bricks). Ultimately, that venerable vine pulled down the entire back porch, with a little help from termites and carpenter ants. I don’t know if people realize that the carpenter ant can be just as invasive as the termite, but because its charming name conjures up cartoon-like images of a smiling six-legged creature with a tiny tool belt around his thorax, we don’t feel the same pang of fear as with the far more clinical and serious “termite.”

I felt, from the start, that I would never be able to keep up our end. With three growing sons and only one dependable income (for I am no Stephen King), every last dollar was already designated either for college, retirement or my nails, because I consider a manicure therapeutic.

So no lawn service for us. After all, my father had made my sister and me mow, rake and weed until we went off to college (and even now, he commands my sons to pick up twigs on his lawn). I would take care of the lawn myself.

I made a foray into the scary shed that had been under the vanquished porch, and was delighted to find a black, fairly new lawnmower. I rolled it out onto the driveway, knelt down and checked the fuel tank. There was even some gas in it! I pumped the little squooshy nubbin three magical times, yanked on the cord, and — after several tries and some kicking and swearing — I got the thing to start and I managed to cut my lawn. I had to drag it over the rocky steps along the side yard to get it to the front, but I thought I had done OK with that maneuver. The problem was, I didn’t realize what repeating this weekly would do to the blade underneath. A few weeks into the summer, the blade was bent beyond recognition and functioned more like a plow, making deep brown furrows in my lawn rather than cutting it.

I blame the deformed blade; but it is really the scary gasoline that changed everything for me. Once I ran out of gas in that little red jerrycan, I was faced with the task of filling it up at the gas station and transporting it home safely. I had seen the warnings on the tanks at the station about doing this. I also had my father’s voice in my head, about safety, to the point where I was not thinking straight. Rather than deal with my fuel phobia, I drove to Home Depot. I bought a push mower.

And the rest is history. Or botany. My push mower suits us. Like the house and yard (and the five of us), it is rickety in appearance, but actually made of tough stuff. It only cuts the grass it feels like cutting; the rest resists its rotary blade, and these I pull up by hand. It is safe to use, so that both my older boys, one of whom is autistic, can mow the lawn without fear of injury or anything blowing up. Dad highly approves of this, and it doesn’t hurt to still get his approval now, even though I’m no youngster.

But mostly, I do the mowing. I put on my son’s iPod, and I go. I sing while I cut. It takes an hour. I get a great workout. I completely enjoy myself, sweat, clippings and all. When it’s finished, my lawn looks neat and green — if you don’t look too close. My green neighbors are happy with my green behavior.

Perhaps the push mower even makes up for my SUV…