September 5th, 2003, was an exciting day. On that day, new sod was planted in front of my house. My next-door neighbors and I went in together for the “volume discount” and hired a landscaper to clear the weeds, rocks, roots and grassy remnants from the curb area of our properties, and had him plant a legitimate lawn in its place. This is what it looked like when the job was finished:
It looked terrific! What pastoral promise! There is practically nothing as refreshing as feeling the cool grass beneath your bare feet on a steamy late summer day! And now I had that opportunity right outside my very own front door, as long as I avoided stepping on my upper yard, which was then and today remains a mown blanket of weeds of diverse origin.
In the ensuing 4½ years, due to my reliable neglect of it, and also due to the steady migration of airborne and waterborne seeds, my lush front lawn paradise evolved into the Crestwood Weed Farm. A week ago, as I puzzled how to best tackle the problem, I took this portrait of my bedraggled patch of weed-choked zoysia:
What was I to do?! Two options were immediately apparent:
Go to the home improvement megalo-mart and buy a high-powered chemical spray to eliminate the weedy pests and let them die slowly before my eyes, leaving chemically-treated mulch behind to feed (gasp!) the grass.
Get down on my hands and knees and start pulling.
While Option #1 was straightforward enough, I also am aware that it is just a seasonal quick fix, and those weeds – the onions, especially – would just be back in the lawn in a matter of months, and in full force this time next year. I opted for #2.
When I was 10 years old, my family moved from a small house near the beach to a large hilltop home on 2½ acres. Between the street and the top of the rise where the house sat, we planted thirty-six citrus and bare root fruit trees: two kinds of oranges, lemons, limes, tangelos, grapefruit, figs, apples, peaches, plums, even a couple of grape vines that never quite took hold. This was my domain, it was my responsibility to keep the area groomed, and I spent a good portion of my time mowing, pruning and, the most heinous chore of all, weeding the basins. I hated weeding, I absolutely hated it. On several occasions, my mother went to the orchard and tried to teach by example by getting really dirty, pulling the weeds from each basin and building the sides of the basins up so they would hold water like a big washtub under each tree. She had a weed-pulling method, grasping each individual weed by its base and sliding her fingers as far down into the earth as possible. In this way, she was able to get the entire plant, roots and all, and lessen the chance of it growing back in a few days. This method appealed to my detail-oriented nature, which my mother knew. She, after all, was the person I most likely inherited that trait from. And while I appreciated the pedantic gesture, I already knew what I was supposed to be doing. I just hated doing it. It was this memory that kept running through my head as I contemplated Option #2.
That night, I experienced an extremely vivid nightmare wherein rows and rows of fruit trees marched in formation toward me, hurling rotten tangerines and dirt clods at my head while “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” roared in the background. The next morning, I took immediate action. I went out to the front yard, early, determined that the property line was between the pear tree and the telephone pole, and I started pulling.
Here is what I was able to do in a couple of hours:
The weed-free area was obvious, but just those two little nibbles at the corner of the lawn took over two hours! This was not going to be a quick task. I looked at the grass from every angle. I walked around it. I went up to the upper lawn for a fresh perspective and took a picture. Then I did what I’d seen my Dad do every time he had a dilemma like this to work through – I opened a bottle of beer. The yard looked better 15 minutes later but, frankly, it was still just a bunch of weeds.
The next day I had a plan. Before going to sleep the night before, I caught the last 20 minutes of an HBO documentary about “The Gates,” the artist Christo’s temporary installation of thousands of bright orange curtains running along the pathways in Central Park. Inspired, I hatched a plan in my sleep to create a temporary work of art in my front yard by removing weeds in geometric patterns. Brilliant! (I thought.) Where Christo has to raise millions of dollars to manufacture and impose objects into a natural landscape, demonizing many of the area’s residents in the process, I am going to do the same thing in the opposite way. My plan will cost me nothing except my time. I was taking things away, instead of installing them. And all of my neighbors would be thrilled with the ultimate outcome, the transformation of the Crestwood Weed Farm back into a sleek, green lawn.
Examining the rough outline in the grass from the first day’s weed-letting, I chose diamond shapes as my yard-art theme. The second day’s work yielded this sublime shape:
Beautiful, isn’t it?
As I pulled weed after weed after blasted weed, applying the method I had learned while doing time in the family orchard, I was careful not to destroy the perfect design by pulling too many weeds. My back hurt. I sat next to an ant hill and the dirty buggers got all up in my pants. Sometime near the end of the day’s session, I must have knelt in a patch of cat piss, which drove my own two cats maniacal when I walked inside the house, the acrid smell broadcasting from my jeans. I was forced to do laundry earlier than planned.
The conclusion of the third day’s work yielded two full diamonds and the beginnings of a third:
And, thus, my labor as the Christo of Crestwood continues. I welcome you all to view this work in progress, as it takes shape, then disappears into Glad ForceFlex bags, leaving a verdant strip upon which the neighborhood cats and dogs may more comfortably relieve themselves, and the brave among us may luxuriate in bare feet.
Admission is free.