“… you have to surrender to the essential wildness of the work.” –
When I surrender to the essential wildness of my yard, it’s good for the bees and bad for my reputation as a responsible homeowner. I imagine the neighbors gossiping about how “those girls really let the place go,” and yet, the lawn looks strong and healthy and thick green with nutrients, and I find myself reassured that this is how it is supposed to be, curb appeal be damned. I gaze out at it in the morning, soaked through with dew, and congratulate myself: what a fine blanket I’ve allowed to be woven upon this earth. What a quality home for the creatures that burrow and dig and buzz. Well done, me. Well done, grass.
A few days later, I discover what lurks in the depths, and a flicker of doubt asks if it is tenable to let this wildness sprawl for much longer. Woven tendrils of weeds trap in the damp rain, a breeding ground for bugs of all varieties. Small puffs of flies jump out of the thicket where I step, making it hard to comfortably spend time outside. With every cartwheel I turn, I crunch the sticks I can’t see, knotted deep in the brush below the surface.
I resign myself to the fact that I have to cut my lawn eventually. But alongside that, a small comfort: with each summer day that passes, I can allow my leg hair to grow unchecked. What does it matter if I let that get long, watch it whorl into half-hearted curls across my shins? Spreading, but not covering, bluish veins I can follow like mazes from foot to hip. My own personal prairie land of the skin, a private wildness that won’t bring shame upon the neighborhood.
Looking closer at my right leg: the white crust of a newly formed scar, from that time I walked into the corner of my in-laws’ fireplace. For three days, I bled into neon band aids leftover from my wife’s childhood, adhesive hot strips (yes, the box said “hot strips”) painting bold swipes across my tibia. Replacing them each morning and night, I pulled fast and hard, tearing out leg hairs that lingered on their still-sticky tabs. It was how my mom used to do it when I was little, too — “it will hurt less if you just rip it off.”
Does it hurt each individual blade of grass less if I keep the mower moving at a fast clip, racing stripes up and down the length of the backyard? The end result is the same: freshly shorn expanse, the human equivalent of cleanliness, ironically revealing more dirt patches and burnt ends than the vibrant lawn I began with. Absence of weeds masked as care, what’s left behind prickly to the touch.
Where the hot strips once landed on my shin, a small bald patch remains — a smooth thumb-sized region of skin amid the coarse brown swirls. Who’s to say which is better: that one spot or the rest, the reluctantly tended or the consciously set free, the careful upholding of an acceptable landscape or the surrender to an overgrown unknown?
Image: feet in grass by patty christopher, licensed under CC 2.0.