Op-ed column: How green it is

There is a quiet uprising afoot in the north country. Across New York’s upstate counties, long blade

Oh, the gasoline price is frightful,

And the birds are so delightful.

It costs way too much to mow.

Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow!

There is a quiet uprising afoot in the north country. Across New York’s upstate counties, long blades are being unsheathed by the trillions in reaction to high gas prices: long blades growing longer day after day after day. We are witnessing the greenest of revolutions: The tyranny of the lawn is being overthrown; the meadow has returned!

The revolution began along the northern frontier of our region, where winters come earlier and gasoline, food and heating oil prices rise sooner and higher than in the more populous lower altitudes and latitudes. For generations, the economy south of the Canadian border and across the Adirondack Park has conditioned residents to keep one eye on a distant horizon where it is always February, always 15 below zero. It has taught us to nurse our resources cautiously.

Last year, as gasoline prices surged toward $3 per gallon, the uniform suburban tidiness of back roads started to fray. Here and there, wide sweeps of front lawn that had only known the raw justice of weekly mowings were left to grow for two, three weeks at a time. Every so often, a clover blossom or buttercup would raise its head, attracting a stray moth or bee before the inevitable decapitation.

Today, at $4-plus per gallon of gas, as many more homeowners defer mowing, those same roadsides look ever shaggier, and frequent patches of yellow buttercup and dandelion, and blue forget-me-not interrupt the green expanse of fescue and rye.

Homeowners are not alone in abetting this insurgency. Budget-strapped local governments, as well as the state of New York, are suddenly rethinking their commitment to the regimental buzz cuts of their parks and public spaces.

A month ago, management at Saratoga Spa State Park announced it would let 12 acres of manicured lawn revert to meadow this year. In suspiciously defensive tones, they made their decision public so that, come August, visitors would not misread the hip-high growth as a sign of neglect. Instead, we are urged to regard this glorious upswell of greenery as a proactive commitment to the environment, reducing climate-altering carbon emissions. “We are doing everything in our power to do simple things to help the planet,” park manager Michael Greenslade told the Gazette.

More reasons

Better late than never, of course. And if, like Mr. Greenslade, you are looking for convincing rationalizations for not mowing your lawn, here are a few more:

Habitat. Meadows attract and sustain a diverse community of insect, bird, reptile and small mammal life;

Scenic Beauty. Is there really any point trying to compare the polychromatic splendor of a butterfly or firefly-covered wildflower field with the flat monotony of a lawn?

Water Quality. The deep roots of a mature, undisturbed meadow absorb and filter a greater volume of rainfall faster than the root-bound, compacted soils of sod, reducing surface runoff into streams and lakes;

Noise Reduction. Imagine the warble of small birds, the chirr of crickets and the peep of frogs where ride-on mowers once howled, weed-whackers shrieked and leaf-blowers whined;

Time Savings. And besides, don’t you really have better things to do than ride around in circles imposing dominion over vegetation?

Some drawbacks

As encouraging as these potential ecological and personal bonanzas are, growing a meadow is not without its negative environmental impact. Pollens and tick-born diseases spring immediately to mind. Perhaps the most worrying impact, though, is the potential spread of non-native invasive plants.

A majority of the plant species occupying our open spaces today did not originate here. This list includes most of the grasses which constitute our lawns, in fact. According to Hilary Oles at the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, much of what we consider meadow growth is not native to our region, either. Most dandelion species, forget-me-nots and orange hawkweed, to name a few, are visitors from out of state. Visitors who just will not go away.

Some of these alien species qualify as invasive, possessing the sort of land-lust and general insensitivity to ecological balance you would ordinarily associate with a residential real estate developer sitting atop a bulldozer. Invasive plant species such as Japanese knotweed, spotted knapweed, garlic mustard and purple loosestrife, once introduced, are notoriously difficult to eradicate and respect no borders.

Perhaps concern for this alien invasion is provoking second thoughts about your commitment to the meadow revolution, or the possibility that your family would disown you for your eccentric devotion to snake habitat. Maybe it’s simply that your nephew keeps whacking your croquet balls deep into the weeds. So, what then, in this time of unprecedented gasoline prices and global ecological peril, can a person of expanded consciousness but limited means do to keep the turf low and nature’s unchecked chaos at bay?

Move right along to the house pet revolution: Buy a goat.

Mark Wilson is a freelance cartoonist and agent provocateur from Saranac Lake.

Categories: Opinion

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