The Grass is Greener Over at My Place

08 Aug 2004
August 8, 2004

Sometimes suburbia so mundane.

I grew up in a tract house in the epitome of a 1960s suburb: LA’s San Fernando Valley. Oh, over the years I’ve rebelled. Homesteading in Baltimore’s inner city had its charm for a while. I remember my stepmother being scared to death to come to my place the night before my wedding. After their visit I escorted she and my father to a waiting taxi, hoping they’d be in attendance at the nuptials the next day.

Los Angeles is segregated enough so that one need never encounter less-than-stellar neighborhoods. Three thousand pounds of automobile protects Angelenos should they ever have to venture down questionable streets.

Baltimore was where I learned not hesitate calling the police should I see anything suspicious. Suburban children can grow up to be so complacent. My training served me well over the years, even in my present circumstance.

A few years ago I was reading on my couch late one night. We have a reeded glass window that faces our porch. It lets in some beautiful light and I can see figures approach but they can’t see me. Suddenly, just such a figure knocked on our door. It was way too late for a door-to-door cable salesman or a Jehovah’s Witness. I froze and watched. He knocked again. Silence. He left.

I immediately went to a window only to see a man dressed in a suit running down our street. Odd. Very odd. This was a quiet suburban neighborhood. Was he in trouble? I woke my wife. She told me to stay inside and not answer the door.

A man in a suit running down our street at 11:30 at night. I immediately called the police. They came to the door for details. I went to bed, though, with the atypical excitement, it was hard to fall asleep. An hour later there was another knock at the door (I could make out the policeman’s uniform through our special suburban one-way glass).

As it turns out, they had found the man wandering down another street. His family had reported him missing earlier that evening. He had stopped taking his lithium and was majorly confused and distressed. I’m glad my inner city training finally paid off.

But things aren’t usually so exciting around here. Weekends are spent taking our children on a long list of errands and to birthday parties (I have to take my youngest darling to Chuck E. Cheese next weekend –pray for me).

What’s a creative guy to do?

Figure 1

Why lawn art of course. My own Stonehenge. No, better yet, my own spiral jetty. Circumstances being what they are, I’ve become an Earth artist.

I’ve never worked in “natural” 3D before (unless you count my leaf blowing). But given my time constraints these days (with a full time job and full time family) I try to use the tools and environments closest to me. I can only be creative with what I’ve got. And this is it.

I wanted to do this a few years ago but my wife nixed it. What would the neighbors say? She’s also an artist so ultimately I appealed to her creative side. She understood. She, too, has had to limit her artmaking to tend to our family’s needs.

So this year, at the start of the mowing season I started two pieces. On one side of our lawn, right at the street I started not mowing in undulating strips. That is, I would mow a line, then move over a bit and mow another wavy line, leaving the space in between to nature. I think it’s beautiful, now that the strips have had many months to grow and especially right after I’ve mowed.

Figure 2

The second piece is a patch of four squares. I call it “Playing Four Square” as an ode to the schoolyard game I used to play long ago. Our lawn is typically full of all kinds of green. It’s far from pristine. We’ve got lots of trees so there is never much light. We don’t fertilize nor preen. Except for the bimonthly “haircut” we leave it to nature. This year some type of carpet-like plant has invaded our plot. This was just perfect for this particular conceptual endeavor.

Figure 1 was taken just before I mowed yesterday. You can see little mounds, reminiscent of far older cultures that previously populated this land. Figure 2 was taken after my mow. An artifact of my suburban experience. Each has its charms.

We wonder what the neighbors think. I hope they notice (and I secretly hope they think I’m just a little bit odd). A businessman off his meds running down a suburban street. A homeowner making patterns in his grass. It all adds up.

5 replies
  1. Donna says:

    Yes. Don’t worry.
    They think you’re weird.

  2. Donna says:

    BTW, I *love* the lawn sculpture. Saw something a bit like this on a grander scale at a Dutch art museum recently.

  3. Mel says:

    Tour de force as usual Jeff. Tour de Gates.
    I wanted to post about this in my blog but would like to use the image (with credit of course).
    I love the *juicy* new design. It’s great! I also like how when you scroll all the way down you get fruits all the way along the bottom of the screen. MMMMMM!

  4. ck says:

    Great blog design!
    I hope you have better luck with your neighbors. Mine didn’t appreciate lawn sculpting, contours, lines, grids, even the flag. But I always liked my First Amendment excuse on the last one.
    Again, great design – can’t get over it.

  5. EJ McNulty says:

    Brilliant lawn work! It’s amazing what happens when you mess with a convention based on sameness. Invite your neighbors over to a screening of “Rivers and Tides” (out on DVD next week, I think) and let Andy Galsworthy inspire you all. Keep up the creative mowing.

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