Prairie in Progress

In May of 1675 or so, Father Louis Hennepin set out with fur trapper and explorer Robert de La Salle to explore some of the vast western lands of New France. The expedition set off from Quebec to explore the Great Lakes, find a couple of pretty impressive waterfalls, and wind its way through a good portion of the Mississipi and Illinois Rivers, to see what it could see.

What the explorers saw was, according to Father Hennepin, mostly a lot of grass. He wove together some good stories of adventure as well, many of which have made him a little suspect as far as trustworthy historians go, but about the grass, he was absolutely right. There was a lot of it, and he was perhaps the first writer to refer to the middle of what would become the United States as “prairie.”

Depending on who you ask, the tall grasses of North America once covered anywhere from 142 to 200 million acres across what would become fourteen states, where it provided homes for abundant wildlife, occasionally caught fire, and swayed in the wind causing a fair few settlers to feel a little seasick. I realize there is a pretty wide gap between 142 and 200 million, but one thing we can pretty much all agree on is that there’s a lot less of it now.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Roughly one third of my own Great State of Missouri used to be covered by prairie grass. Today, the state contains only about 1% of its original grassland, about 70,000 acres in total. Obviously, a lot of that is inevitable because the land got more densely settled and people built cities and suburbs filled with suburban houses that have suburban yards and suburban homeowners associations that don’t like tall grass.

Spring is firmly upon us here in Missouri which means so is lawn mowing season and unlike previous years, this one has found me doing a lot of back and forth and back and forth through my lawn, cutting down the very same plants I am attempting to grow. I have done this maybe four or five times so far this year. As of this moment I am the only one of my household to have completed this task.

That’s not because no one else in my household would willingly take on this job, but it’s because of an unfortunate set of circumstances that include the complicated timing of rainy weather, minor injuries and illnesses, busy activity and work schedules, and one fairly substantial grass allergy. In a normal year, I might mow the grass twice, because my husband actually loves to mow the yard, and is almost always the one to do it.

He’s also a lot stronger than I am and has a strange devotion to his old non-self-propelled push mower. It’s difficult to maneuver, at least for me, through our yard which is fairly large, oddly shaped, terribly uneven, and extremely hilly. Oh, and it also has some areas of really poor drainage. Mowing it is not fun. And it takes a long time. And I am, objectively, really bad at it.

I can’t say for sure that the fact that I don’t like to do it isn’t a factor in my ineptitude, but I am not intentionally bad at mowing. I do try to work in straight lines when I can and I even attempt perpendicular lines from one cutting to the next, but the lot includes curvy landscaping, and big trees, and garden boxes, and even a footbridge to nowhere. There’s a lot going on. In my head, my neighbors are watching out the windows snickering and shaking their heads at the number of times I go back over the same strip of grass for the third time and completely miss the one next to it.*

To my husband’s credit, he has not said a word about how poorly I mow the lawn, and really seems grateful that I have been doing it while he hasn’t yet been able to. If either of my sons were responsible for the sloppy work, I know he would have some thoughts to share. That’s probably why they are both better at it than I am.

But I assume he knows that he needn’t bother offering me constructive yard mowing criticism. I can see he is itching to take over the job again, and I am itching to let him. Because if that doesn’t happen soon, then I’m just going to put up a sign. I’m not sure the homeowners association will much like it, but the Great State of Missouri is fixing to regain a little more prairie. 

*My neighbors are all lovely people who probably have better things to do than snicker at my poor grass cutting skills. Though I’m sure they will also be relieved when the hubs is back on the job.

18 thoughts on “Prairie in Progress

  1. A decade ago, my grandson and I took a couple seasons pulling up our modest front lawn. We began by just expanding the garden fringes into the lawn until all the grass disappeared. The guy across the street must have liked the effect because he also took out his front lawn but did it in one day with a backhoe.

  2. Fear not! You are lucky to have a winter bad enough to stop the grass from growing. My lawn takes two to three hours and it’s all year! But I do admire your intrepid attitude of beating back the prairie (and its hidden snakes).

  3. My wife assists with edging and clean-up, but I’m the sole user of our ancient push mower. At a prior residence, we had a riding mower because there was a lot of lawn. In our current situation, the lawn can be done in an hour or so. I do miss the riding mower (sigh). We have a neighbor who believes in having a prairie yard, and I would not be shocked to learn one day our township has sent someone to his door to do a wellness check, Like us, other neighbors marvel at the height he allows the grass to reach, as well as how he manages to (eventually) cut it back ever so slightly. It looks horrible, and I have resolved that when we go to sell our house I’m going to cut his lawn in preparation for the open house. It is nice of your husband to refrain from a critique of your lawn mowing skills. My wife and I are not as shy about making “observations” about our lawn care skills to each other.

  4. It’s not about you, your husband or son cutting the grass or about who is even better. It’s the SOB who invented the lawn mower! Also, regarding grass there is evidently more foliage on earth than before. The earth is literally getting greener. Today, there is five percent more foliage than twenty years ago.

      1. Way more greener than before probably because of CO2 levels. By the way I didn’t want to sound condescending about the mower, but these inventions we often take for granted so we can cut more grass.

  5. I’m so glad we don’t have to deal with an HOA. Several neighbors are removing large parts of their lawns and replacing them with beautiful-looking rocks. It costs a fortune to water and really, Kentucky Bluegrass is not natural here. It’s great music, though.

      1. We have quite a large area of rocks, put in primary because of an inability to grow grass. Rocks have their own issues…mainly that weeds love rocks. Those either require pulling or spraying and I’m not a huge fan of spraying. But they sure are beautiful in the rain.

  6. Donna Volkenannt

    I’m happy Missouri is reclaiming more prairie grass. Although my spring allergies might not agree.

  7. I don’t mow. Well, I did back in 2009 when the hubs tore his rotator cuff and couldn’t. We have some fairly steep hills and I’m kind of tiny. Mowing those hills on our riding mower was, in a word, terrifying. I hated it so much that we hired a service after that.

    I love the idea of a prairie, but the HOA wouldn’t be happy. And my allergies would be downright life threatening. If it isn’t the trees trying to kill me, it’s the grasses. Or the mold. So, I smile as my mower pulls up and takes care of it for me.

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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