I have become my father.
My father is a man who cares about his lawn, has always, so far as I know, cared about his lawn. In my younger and more idealistic years, I would question this not-quite-obsession. Why spend money on lawn care products? Who cares what the neighbors think? If the neighbors are going to look down on you because of the state of the grass in your yard, then doesn't that make them precisely the type of people whose opinions you should not care about? And what about all that wasted time? Why bother edging? Who looks at the edges of a lawn? We once had a conversation that went something like this:
Me: Why don't you cut it shorter? (I wanted it to be like a fairway. Or even better, a putting green.)
Dad: It's healthier to keep it longer.
Me: But then you have to cut it more often.
Dad: No you don't.
Me: Yes you do. You cut it like that and two days later it's long and shaggy again. If you cut it shorter then it would take longer to reach the long and shaggy state.
Dad: No. (He then went on to point out the flaws in my reasoning, but I don't remember the specifics of his rebuttal. Maybe he'll explain it again in the comments.)
But now that I'm trying to grow a lawn in my backyard, I am obsessed. It must be something to do with being a dad, like some unspoken rule or rite of passage into fatherhood. A commandment, perhaps, "Thou must care about thy lawn."
You are familiar with the phrase, "Like watching grass grow." It's typically used to describe a boring activity, such as churchgoing or listening to your spouse's recitation of her dreams. I, for one, will never perceive the idiom in the same way. I "watch my grass grow" at least twelve times a day. I walk outside and literally do nothing but look at the lawn. I stare at it. I scan it, back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes I walk around in the grass and look more discriminatingly at it. I peer at it from different angles. I fret over the weather forecast. Before the grass germinated I would crouch and squint and lament the lack of anything green and slender. "When's it gonna grow?" I would ask anyone--my wife, the neighbor, my cat.
I bought a sprinkler. No, I bought two. I'll admit that. I bought a hose even though I already owned two. I bought a new nozzle for the hose because there's a patch next to the house that can't be reached by the sprinkler. I was zealous about watering. I eschewed the use of straw because I read that straw contains things (not the scientific term) that eventually become weeds. There would be no weeds in my new lawn! I watched the sprinkler work its magic. (It's surprisingly mesmerizing, not unlike a bonfire.) The next morning I would again check for signs of life.
At one point, when some of the grass had (finally!) started coming it, we (my lawn and I) were hit with a vicious storm. Near-tornadic winds, hammering bullets of rain, and hail--yes, hail!--abused my infant grass blades and washed away a fair amount of topsoil. Rivers of water carried unsprouted seeds and deposited them in huge piles, leaving bare the patches of sand you see in the picture above. Aghast, I ran out and raked feverishly, trying to spread the seeds around. Will grass grow in sand, I wondered? Yes, yes it would. Grass will grow on the beach if you let it. Golfers replace divots with sand. A panic attack was avoided.
Checking the damage the next day I discovered the presence of an old nemesis: the voles were back. Voles, little satanic creatures that apparently prefer the lushest areas of new lawns, were tunneling under my proudest sections of grass. They were lifting the grass and somehow depositing dirt (well, sand) on top of it. Some of my grass had turned--gasp!--yellow.
I did what all backyard warriors do. I googled. Specifically, I googled, "How to kill voles and make them suffer horrendous deaths, deaths so grisly that word of them will quickly spread to any other vole in the area, or indeed, any vole considering relocating to the area, deaths so shockingly grisly, so obscenely gruesome, so nauseatingly repulsive that they would rather commit mass suicide than face the mere possibility of facing me and my murderous, Google-inspired method."
There were a refreshing number of options. There were traps and sound/vibration sticks. There were repellants made from castor oil. Someone said to use coffee grounds. Another swore by the deliciously torturous effects of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum. Apparently, the little turds can't resist the stuff, even though it wreaks havoc on their digestive systems and they die. But the best (because it's free) method I found was the use of urine, human urine.
The wife was not thrilled with this plan, and so we came to an agreement. It's the same agreement we have about my drinking out of the milk jug. I could bottle my urine as long as she could pretend that I wasn't. In other words, I had to hide the vole repellant.
I hid it in the cabinet under the bathroom sink because the only time anyone gets in there is when a band-aid is needed or when one of us gets a nagging cough and we have to locate the Nyquil knock-off before bedtime. It seemed like a fine place; it wasn't like I was going to go Howard Hughes and store twenty-three bottles of the stuff or anything. I planned on using it as soon as I had enough "product."
I used twenty-ounce bottles and I now know how much my bladder can hold. I consider this a fringe benefit of the experiment.
I have applied the treatment on three occasions and so far it seems to be working.
And here's where I'm supposed to bring this back to my father's lawn obsession. So let's do this: Tomorrow is Father's Day and we're having the dads over. We'll hang out on the back deck and eat hamburgers and drink beer. And if Dad smells something, I'll explain exactly what it is. I'm pretty sure he'll approve. It's a dad thing.