I am often amused by people who try to make their yards look like Better Homes and Gardens magazine covers. But in fact, a lot of people are impressed by neighbors who spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours manicuring their lawns.
The greatest irony is that after all the yard work, the workers go back inside and watch TV, exhausted after having spent the best part of their weekends trying to make nature conform to advertisers' fantasies.
Being the lazy sort, I would prefer to accept the leaves and sit on the back porch enjoying nature as she is, while listening to the cacophony of leaf-blowers, edgers, hedge-clippers, pruners, and lawnmowers.
People are trying to imitate the estates of 17th century British noblemen who had large, smooth lawns because they had seized all the common land from the towns and villages and enclosed it. They then rented the land back to the former owners for grazing their herds of sheep, which the landowners also seized. (Sheep bite the grass down so low that a sheep-grazed lawn looks like a putting green.)
Then, during the industrial revolution, sheepherding for profit became a specialized endeavor, and the wealthy landowners, now factory owners, let some of the poor, out-of-work sheep-herders manicure their vast acreages. (Can you imagine keeping a lawn of a dozen acres looking like a putting green with nothing but hand tools?)
Because of all this, the manor—the large house set amid a huge, smooth, green lawn—became the symbol of wealth and power. So, to imitate the wealthy and powerful, all the up-and-coming, new socially mobile small business owners put buying a big house on a big lawn at the top of their lists.
When British folk migrated to New England, that patch of green in front of the house was still considered important. For some it was—many people needed that space to grow vegetables to augment their diets. The idea of growing inedible, ornamental crops was absurd.
When Americans spread to suburbia, despite never having seen English manors with acres of perfectly manicured lawns, they were sold on the idea that every house should be surrounded by a smooth green expanse of short, soft grass.
Now we have spread across the continent, and lo!—most climates are not hospitable to grass. In many areas, the only grasses that grow cannot be maintained with that putting-green evenness, because the native grasses have to be long or broad or clumpy or spiky to live in the various soil and weather conditions.
The solution? Spend endless hours, dollars, and natural resources creating wholly unsustainable unnatural environments around each suburban building, to try to imitate a way of life and location that is hundreds of years and thousands of miles a way, set in a time and climate where it almost made sense (at least to the powerful nobles who seized the common land and oppressed the peasants, eventually forcing them to become human lawnmowers.)
So we waste precious water on non-arable land, dump millions of pounds of chemicals into our groundwater, import nonnative grasses, which often make wonderful habitats for pests and insects that couldn't otherwise survive in that climate (and which thus have no natural predators).
This incites us to dump further millions of pounds of even more toxic chemicals all around our homes and on the lawns where our children play, and spend resources making fossil-fuel-powered implements of metal and plastic designed to maintain this totally artificial environment, and then spend all of our leisure time trying to reverse the natural order where we live.
We have companies that will charge a homeowner exorbitant prices to chemically alter a small patch of the earth to make it unfit for any life suited to the area; of course, those chemicals must be applied regularly (but they are all "safe" chemicals—which means that the amounts that persist in our water supply will be so diluted that they aren't very toxic.)
Of course, all these fertilizers and pesticides are petroleum-based, and the refinement of petroleum products is itself incredibly toxic, but we are used to that. (Any wonder that the oil companies are the most profitable businesses in the history of the human race?)
Then there are companies that don't mess with trying to make the lawn grow green and healthy—they just spray-paint the existing grass with grass-green paint.
The most ironically idiotic permutation? In arid regions like Arizona and New Mexico, people are ripping up their lawns (which cost too much for most people to maintain—water finally costs more than people can afford) and replacing them with Astroturf.
The Astroturf, which totally blocks any flow of natural elements between the earth and sky, heats up so hot that it can burn children and pets.
But at least it's a smooth green carpet.
Can anyone remember why that matters?