This might be a scary thing, but I'd like to give you a little glimpse into my late-night imagination. This is a little scene that has played itself out many a time as I fall asleep, and the story has many variants. But here is the basic idea. The setting: we live in a pleasant neighborhood, own our first home, and consistently fail to mow the lawn.
Someone knocks on the door. It is the Head of the Neighborhood Association (HNA).
HNA: "Hello Mrs. Moore. I am here to remind you that your neighborhood contract requires you to care for your outside property so that its aesthetic properties will be satisfactory."
Me: "What do you mean?"
HNA: "Mrs. Jones across the street, along with several other neighbors, have registered concerns that the grass in your yard is way too long, and smattered with weeds."
Me, still uncertain: "We do take care of our yard. But, now that you mention it, I don't really care for Mrs. Jones' marigolds." I start to walk across the street to register MY concerns with Mrs. Jones.
The H.N.A. follows me. "Mrs. Moore, you can't let weeds grow in your yard. You signed the covenant."
Me: "Yes, we said we'd take care of our property, and we do. What do you mean by weeds, anyways?"
HNA: "Ma'am, your lawn is smattered with dandelions and flanked by large bushy things."
Me: "Well, Mrs. Jones's porch is smattered with marigolds, and I don't like those. Can I sic you on her plants?"
HNA, exasperated: "You just have to mow your lawn, and get rid of those bushy things."
Me: Those are beans and peas and [other yummy foods]. What exactly is the problem here? How about we look up the word 'weed' in the dictionary?
We walk back in my house and I proudly take out my enormous English-major-gear Oxford English Dictionary, set it on our table with a satisfying thunk, hand her the accompanying magnifying glass, and ask her to go ahead and please tell me what a weed is. [Hey, it's my imagination, and I use the OED as often as possible, okay?]
HNA, after a few minutes of compliant (and I think a bit curious) searching with the magnifying glass: "Weed...an undesirable plant."
Me: "So if I desire it, it's not a weed anymore. Or if I undesire Mrs. Jones' stinky marigolds, which look almost just like dandelions, they're weeds. Right?"
The HNA leaves, defeated, and a little embarrassed that she never thought to grow food in her own yard.
I desperately hope we will never live in the kind of neighborhood where people try and tell you how to run your household. So it's no shock that this little fantasy never ends well for the HNA. She could never be the hero. Sometimes she is red-faced, angry. I would rather she just see things my way, but very rarely does the light of reason dawn upon her. Once Mrs. Jones even came out of her marigold-smattered home and started getting angry at me. In all scenarios, though, I clearly, consisely, and effectively point out the stupidity of immaculate lawns and pointless green patches of grass. Maybe if they had kids to actually play in their lawns, that would be a good reason to keep the grass a *little* shorter, but come on, really...it's not like kids and dandelions are mutually incompatible.
I always tell them both that the lawn care industry conditioned our brains to think grass should be flat and short. They can now sell us all manner of cutting equipment, making the average homeowner think he needs a lawn cutter and a trimmer and a crew of professional grass-growers in order to have an acceptable yard in which to do absolutely nothing. They even came up with ways that we didn't have to water it ourselves, like hiring these professionals to install pipes in the ground (!) so the grass we don't even care about enough to water ever day will be the right shade of green. They pitted neighbors against each other in a constant battle of comparison, just to make a buck off well-conditioned, ever-insecure homeowners. You have to mow your lawn, or else your neighbors' flat square of uselessness will look better than yours. Bonus neighborhood-points for making diagonal lines in it.
Who else could come up with all of this nonsense, except someone who stood to profit from it? Homeowners certainly don't, that's for sure. They spend countless hours of precious weekend time, mowing and trimming and raking and aerating and fertilizing, or if they can afford it, hiring people to do all these chores, just to have nothing but a useless, money-and-time-sucking flat piece of greenery.
Working towards a reasonable end is one thing, but working for no good reason is what they did to Russian prisoners. Dig a hole, fill the hole, dig it again. It was demoralizing, recurring, back-breaking work that never got them anywhere. Not so different than what we've been trained to do with our lawns. Plant grass, cut grass, plant more grass, fertilize it so it will grow longer, cut it short again. This is basically psychological torture invented by the same people who thought up the gulags.
A good way to put that piece of earth to good use is to plant some actual stuff on it. Flowers, yes, and lots of people have figured that one out. I'm going to have as many flowers as possible, and I don't discriminate. But planting food is another no-brainer good idea. I don't think everyone needs to have a veggie garden, but instead of wasting time manicuring a pointless lawn, is it such a horrible suggestion to spend that time investing in something that'll give you tangible benefits, like a veggie garden? (If not a garden, just spend your extra time doing something you really enjoy.) A garden will provide you with something to show for all your efforts. You'll have incredibly tasty food and people will think you are amazing for growing it. AND, because you didn't spend all your time in a silent, passive-aggressive competition with your neighbors, you might have some better friends too. Together you can overindulge in surplus zucchini and fend off the zealous HNAs (who are probably just disguised employees of the lawn care industry. Why else would they care so much?).
That way, your friends might take it better when you tell them you're raising chickens in your backyard, too. But that's a post for another day.