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Flying Colors: Gorgeous Chaos — Part I

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Flying Colors is a sponsored column on the hobby of backyard bird feeding written by Michael Zuiker, owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited store at the Lee Harrison Shopping Center. Visit the store at 2437 N. Harrison Street or call 703-241-3988.

We could blame it on the Europeans! I mean they came over here first and brought their structured sensibilities with them. I mean, if you cut down enough trees, anyones yard could look like the gardens of Versailles or of Buckingham Palace.

We could blame it on the really potent marketing of the sexiness of grass. The short croppings. The fine shades of green. The perfect, weed-less patch.

We could blame it on our need for order and sameness to feel secure and not alone.

But I cannot do grass, folks. Just can’t. I find grass dead. Except when you have to cut it every eight days because it won’t stop growing.

My grass cutting career started in 1958 when I was seven years old. My neighbor Mr. Vallee paid me $2 to cut his lawn. Two dollars to a seven-year-old, in 1958, made me feel like the man!

Except when I had to clean up for his two dogs before I cut the lawn. The math, which I could not do at the age of seven, said 2 dogs times 2 poops a day, times 2 weeks before cutting, was a lot of poop.

Definitely not the man.

After cutting the lawn and removing the poop, the place did not really look any better.

My mother’s backyard was half flower and vegetable garden and it always look beautiful. It was also alive. Bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, birds, squirrels lived and loved the backyard. The birds loved the cherry tree a little too much, and the peaches were challenged to make it to ripeness with hungry squirrels always checking them out, but the yard was alive.

I am struck how often I drive through neighborhoods and see the lifeless, stillness of lawns. No squirrels, no bunnies, no birds, no insects — nothing at all on the lawns. Not even little children playing tag or wrestling.

When my brothers and sisters were young, we did not have T-J Tumble indoor playgrounds. We had lawns. It would not be a stretch to say we had 10-15 games we could play every night after dinner.

No one sprayed their lawns. They were our outdoor blankets. We hugged our lawns and caressed them. I do not see that very much anymore.

But I do see a lot of little yellow and red flags. And the poison that those flags represent makes me sad. Sad because I am hard pressed to find beauty on manicured lawns. No flowers, no bees, no butterflies, no grasshoppers, no birds or insects down below. It is as if they were just “dead zones!”

Why do we destroy what is natural and plant sod, grass and seed that holds nothing that is alive?

For the beauty? I would challenge you to compare a manicured grass lawn to a garden of hummingbird flowers. Or purple cone flowers with brightly colored goldfinches on them.

For the value? I would venture to say most real estate agents would much rather market a beautiful 5 bedroom/5 bathroom (no one really needs 6 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms, do they?) two story Cape Cod house with a big, colorful summer garden of bright flowers to greet the potential new owner!

For the joy? Please raise your hand if you like going outside in the heat of summer, with high humidity and walking back and forth with a noisy, polluting (or non) lawn mower as millions of flying insects get in your eyes, nose and mouth every 10 days? Because it grows that fast in the late Spring and all Summer long!

There are not many raised hands going up.

So why not dig it up? What is the resistance? What is the compelling reason to keep something that has very little value to the environment, causes you physical discomfort and gives you no real tangible pleasure?

Big changes are scary. But the first dig is the deepest. And the hardest. And the most exhilarating!

Because after one dig, you will want to dig more. And more and more and…

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