December 13, 2017

The Awesomeness of Grass

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

Grass.  When I was a child, I loved it.  Rolling in it, playing in it, hiding in it.  What could be better?  Wind rippled blossoms in greenery.  Buttercups, dandelions, daisies and Queen Anne’s lace all enticed me.  Blue grass flowers nodded my way.  Butterflies, grasshoppers and cicadas lured me into the fields.

My siblings, cousins and I played wild games of tag, hide and seek and keep away through the tall grass.

I never understood my grandfather’s reaction every time he caught us.  He gave us Old Harry for trampling it.  “It’s too important for that!”  He put up loose hay twice a summer, keeping his oxen through the winters through that tremendous effort.  Having his work made even more difficult by children who didn’t know any better wasn’t easy for him to bear.

We were just kids.

He tried teaching us.

I was a long time learning.

Grass turned into work when I grew older.  I mowed lawns for summer jobs.  Grass was employment security.  Incredible the way it kept growing.  All those homeowners wanted me to fertilize, too?  I remember shrugging.  I wanted the paycheck.  Cash was cash.

In college I was too important to worry about grass.  My ignorance went  further.  Why waste money endlessly mowing, trimming, edging and reseeding?  Was that stupid or what?  I felt detached from grass, too far above it to play in it, too busy to wonder at it and too uneducated to appreciate it.

Later still, as a homeowner, grass became a nuisance.  Here I had a million things to do, from scraping and painting to replacing clapboards to patching the roof and look at the place!  The stupid lawn needed mowing.  Again!

Finally I became a farmer.  My long-delayed education began.  Put up hay for 27 summers and the process will change you, too.  But I believe it took the sum of all that labor to break down my stubborn resistance to learning.

Grass isn’t only a playground.  It’s not simply an income.  Neither is it merely work, powerful erosion control or just a labor-intensive crop.  It’s all that and more.  Beyond photosynthesis in action, grass is a storage system for the sun’s energy.  It’s elemental, basal.  It’s the substrate on which everything above it is based, the foundation of entire ecosystems.

Literally and figuratively, grass is a Force of Nature.  It’s Life, itself.

I learn more about it every time I look out over our fields.   During the summer, the grass is bright green and the ground alive with bugs, frogs, mice, voles and everything else that feeds on them.

The yellow grass stubble of December supports a different suite of life throughout the winter.  That includes the rabbits and deer and the animals they support.

Grass supports humanity directly and indirectly, too.  The flour in the bread you eat is grass.  The animals that nourish you require grass to survive themselves.

It’s so humble.  So lowly.  So unassuming and yet so necessary.  I’m a farmer.  Yet I don’t know a third of what I should about it.

Today I mow my lawn, see the clippings spew from under the deck, smell fresh cut grass and marvel at how something so plebian, so trampled, unnoticed and unappreciated sustains us all.

Now that I’ve finally grown up, I’m in awe of grass.  Grass gives me hope that somehow, through ways I can’t see, via routes opaque to my understanding, that I may be ― even a fraction ―  as sustaining to the world I live in, too.