Lessons in yard-care futility

John Devitt

Well, it’s that time of year again.  The snow is melting and it’s time to start working in the yard.  For some, the snow does not melt fast enough.  While many places in the world practice yard care futility, lucky visitors to Revelstoke will be able to witness a performance only whispered of in rumour.  That’s right, the great Revelstoke snow excavation has been underway for some time now!

Using shovels and snow blowers; Revelstokians annually remove the snow from their lawns and place it onto roads and sidewalks.  The irony of this maneuver is for a citizenry that professes to love snow and spends all winter piling it onto their lawns, well…. you can see the amusement this can cause in passersby.  Perhaps the granddaddy of all snow removal methods comes when you witness one of your neighbours standing with a running hose, watering the snow so it will melt faster.  Cue face palm.

Yard care futility is not limited to snow removal however.  How many times have you witnessed someone washing his or her driveway in the summertime to ensure a weekly pitch-black sheen?  Should leaf blowers even be mentioned here?  The frivolity of a leaf blower is perhaps the most aggravating.  Replicating the natural and more environmental friendly method of wind, it’s relatively easy to shake ones head at the sheer laziness of someone who cannot bother picking up a rake.  Have you ever considered why as a culture we feel compelled to remove our leaves from the yard?  After all, they’re called “leaves”, as in “why not just leave them there?”

The culture question of why we spend so much effort on our yard work can be traced back to the 17th century.  At that time, the yard/lawn was seen as a sign of affluence and prestige.  Only wealthy landowners could afford to not employ peasants to manicure grass by hand, but they were also the only ones who could afford to use valuable land for something other than farming (http://www.organiclawncare101.com/history.html).  The “lawn” became a symbol of the European aristocracy.

As migration to the “New World” occurred the prestige having a lawn came with.  The great equalizer of democracy and revolution leveled the playing field between peasant and aristocrat, and short green grass around your home became a new symbol reflecting this.  As time went on, grass “technology” improved and led to heartier strains of grass and convenient maintenance methods.  The lawn now permeates our culture, yet still as an icon of wealth; wealth of leisure time and wealth to spend on the bloated yard care industry.

With environmental concerns altering our collective culture over the past 30 years, perhaps the lawn and yard care are losing their luster.  Xeriscaping (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xeriscape), the act of landscaping your yard to a natural state more in keeping with the local environment and reducing maintenance, is growing in popularity (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704868604575433403900683476.html).  Nevertheless, the cost, be it time or dollars, of responsible environmentalism can sometimes be greater than traditional means.  Does this signal a new type of status and prestige in our new millennium?  After all, a Prius is way more expensive than a used Sunfire.

While on one hand Revelstoke recently received the honour of being named the biggest electricity reducer during Earth Hour, this accomplishment is almost immediately overshadowed by the additional draw on the grid by yard maintenance appliances.  Merely a day after the announcement, City of Revelstoke workers were out power washing the rocks of the Salmon sculptures.  Not willing to wait for another day of spring rain to wash away the grit, it was essential that those stones were spit polished immediately.  It seems conservation only applies to the peasants and the government aristocracy is exempt.

Is it time to break the cycle of yard care futility?  Building on the citizens’ success of Earth Hour, can Revelstoke implement a full-scale yard revolution?  Leave your leaves where they are in the fall.  Let the snow melt as it will.  Allow your grass to grow naturally and it will reach a point where it does not grow any further.  Allow the wind and the rain to fulfill its natural, cleansing functions.  And, hey, if you’re going to water something, water your vegetable garden instead of your snow.