Herald Journal Columns
April 17, 2006, Herald Journal

The natural disorder


Humans are a race of changers.

We seem bent on changing our environment, and trying to impose order on a disorderly world.

This obsession with changing things can create some problems.

On a large scale, Mother Nature finds ways to restore the equilibrium in dramatic ways.

She might roll out a hurricane to take back some beach front property, or spin out a tornado to equalize things on the prairie.

Dams can break, and rivers can flood, as a reminder that living in a flood plain is a risky proposition.

Our best attempts to control nature are no match for the incredible power of the elements.

On a smaller scale, lawns and gardens represent our attempts to control our own corner of the environment.

Even on this scale, nature has the upper hand.

I admire people who are able to visualize and maintain gardens.

From the simple to the elaborate, from a window box to an English garden complete with whimsical paths and dramatic elements, gardens can be appealing.

The way people adapt gardening to fit the space they have available also fascinates me.

I grew up in a small house in Duluth, and my mother filled every spare corner with plants.

The yard was bordered by lilac bushes, and even today, the delicate fragrance of lilacs drifting through the windows on a summer breeze takes me back to that time.

To be a gardener, one must be afflicted with a certain amount of optimism.

The brightly colored garden and seed catalogs that arrive each spring present neat and attractive scenarios of what might be possible.

I have made a few short-lived attempts at gardening over the years, but the result has always been the same.

I begin each adventure with a spring in my step and a carefree outlook.

In spite of my best intentions, I am soon distracted by other things, and forget about gardening.

Any lack of attention gives old Mother Nature the advantage, and she begins to take over.

The weeds and native plants seem to appear overnight.

Soon, I am fighting a losing battle for control of the garden.

When my ex-wife and I moved to Carver County, we envisioned a huge garden.

I imagine our neighbor had a bit of a laugh at our enthusiasm, when, in typical good-natured style, he plowed up the plot we staked out for our vegetable garden.

We bought a second-hand tiller, and spent hours tilling and preparing the soil.

We pored over the catalogs and haunted local garden centers for weeks prior to planting time.

We got advice from friends and neighbors on what to plant and how to go about it.

When the time came, we planted rows of corn, hills of potatoes, onions, peppers and radishes, and other staples.

At first, I would go out daily to check the progress of the garden and maybe do some weeding.

The visits gradually grew further and further apart.

Weeds began to gain a toehold, and the situation began to deteriorate.

In spite of this, we still had a fair crop by harvest time.

We soon learned, however, that the local deer, coons, rabbits, and birds had a better sense of timing than we did. And they had opportunity on their side, since they didn’t have offices to go to every day.

As each crop reached its prime, the predators always seemed to be one step ahead of us, and stole the choicest bits.

Undaunted, we planted a garden again the next year, but on slightly smaller scale.

With each successive year, the gardens became smaller, and the maintenance less frequent.

Like Livingstone on his way to Victoria Falls, I fought my way through the thick underbrush in search of my elusive strawberry plants.

Eventually, we gave up the garden completely.

My experience with lawns has been similar.

There was a time when we mowed a huge expanse of lawn. We mowed around buildings, and even incorporated a former pasture.

My Saturdays were spent aboard my trusty John Deere lawn tractor, and life was good.

As time went by, the novelty wore off, and other demands kept me away from home more often.

If we failed to get to part of the lawn one week, it would seem to grow about a foot by the next weekend, and the weeds would begin to encroach on our space.

Like the garden before it, the lawn began to shrink with each passing year.

Eventually, we maintained only a small amount of lawn around the house.

In both cases, Mother Nature won the battle in the end.

Our attempts to impose order were defeated, and things reverted to a state of natural disorder.

When it comes to lawn maintenance, things can, and often are, carried too far.

A nicely manicured lawn on a golf course is a joy to behold.

But, in residential areas, row after row of chemically treated, identical lawns seems excessive.

I am not suggesting that lawns should not be maintained, but it scares me when I see those synthetic looking, perfectly manicured carpets, with a fanatical owner lurking on the sideline, a tweezer in one hand and a sprayer in the other, waiting to annihilate any weed that is reckless enough to taint his masterpiece.

A lawn like that is the sign of a misspent life.

When it comes to lawns and gardens, and any other way we interact with our natural environment, a gentle approach is best.

Living in harmony with nature, rather than working against it, would be simpler, and would provide more opportunities for long-term success, both for us, and for the world around us.

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