25 July 2008

What's that smell?

Lost in all the noise surrounding the New Yorker's insufficiently satirically covered July 21 issue was an intriguing book review by Elizabeth Kolbert about the anti-lawn movement. ("How could we have missed such a hard-hitting article?" you ask.) She touches on perhaps a half-dozen different books from the last couple years that form part of this movement's growing corpus of literature. I never had stopped to wonder about the history of our classic grassy lawn. As it turns out, none of the common American grasses is indigenous to North America, and lawns were invented in the mid-19th century.

Around the time I was reading this article, I had a conversation with my host Mary Beth about the front lawn at our house here in Indianapolis. Instead of grass, they have a lawn full of thyme. Now, it's not the most ecologically noble endeavor; they wanted to grow something they could park a car on, and they put an industrial-strength plastic grid just underneath the topsoil to ensure that this would be possible. But after experiencing a summer with this thing, I can say that a thyme lawn has downsides, such as being uncomfortable as hell to lie down in, but it also has upsides: when you walk across the lawn, it smells like pork chops.

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