The National Wildlife Federation recently publicized a plea to homeowners: leave the leaves where they fall, don’t rake them up! It’s nice to hear a tiny bit of sanity from an organization people trust, and in the years we’ve lived here my partner and I have gone around loading up bags of leaves left out on the curb, and distributing them in our yard and gardens. No, the neighbors don’t like us much, but that’s not our problem- we’ve tried to be friends with different habits, even gone out of our way to bring them homemade Christmas cookies- complete with a trip to the store for traditional ingredients that I don’t even eat myself (and, need I note, I do not myself celebrate Christmas, either!)- and they still haven’t brought back our plate. Their house is in the artificial zone. During the summer, their lawn is mown often multiple times a day (really, it doesn’t grow that fast, I think Mr. Cut just likes driving that riding mower in circles when he’s bored). Everything that touches their land is tightly and artificially controlled. The other day, they expressed their dismay at finding a black rat snake (which they promptly killed). Clearly, it was the fault of our unmown meadow. “A rat snake!” I exclaimed. “That’s wonderful! They eat venomous copperheads, you know, and keep them away!” This was met with outright denial and the declaration that all snakes must die. This was obviously a losing battle, and I maintained my friendly composure and let it drop. I think in general what it comes down to is a couple things: first a lack of education, and then, if someone is actually educated on the damage their manicured lawn is doing, a sense of powerlessness in the face of peer pressure to maintain a certain look.
Leaves and unmown spaces are valuable wildlife habitat. Want more butterflies? Leave the leaves. Stop mowing that lawn. Replace it with living, organic gardens or rewild your bit of earth! The argument I most commonly hear for lawns is that the kids need a place to run around. But consider this. When you stop mowing, you increase diversity. What is your kid doing out there in that lawn? Playing with plastic toys over a flat patch of mown grass monoculture? What would actually happen if you stopped mowing and allowed some variety in? Since I haven’t mowed my lawn (ever), I’ll tell you: Wildflowers. Tall grasses that bend in the wind. Saplings. Trees. Vines. Bugs. Butterflies. Fewer mosquitos, more beneficial spiders. Squirrels, bunnies, beneficial snakes. Birds! Beautiful, singing, happy birds! Healthy food and/or medicine, if you’ve planted an organic garden in its place. Your kids will learn a greater connection and interest in the natural world. They will improve their motor-coordination through playing in a space that is not always the same, flat space, devoid of diversity. They will use their imaginations and create new games and stories in this landscape. Of course they will still play on playgrounds, lawns, and parks that are mowed (and probably chemically fertilized and sprayed with toxic herbicides like RoundUp, as is the case with most city parks)- you certainly won’t be keeping them from that experience. But you will be expanding their exposure to nature, something all children need a lot of for healthy development.
We still manage our land- pulling out thorny starts, removing poison ivy, etc- people have always managed land, and I believe it is part of our natural heritage. Lawns originally were pasture- there was a lawn because there were animals that ate the grass. Practical. Now it is a gross demonstration of the waste of the wealthy. Wasted space that could be used for gardens, animals, natural habitat, or other resources.
What have you done with your bit of earth?