In defense of the unkempt lawn

My wife and I have lived in our house for almost eight years now. We have always mowed the lawn, but not quite as regularly as our neighbors. We have one guy next store who is somewhat maniacal. He used to cut his grass twice a week, although he's slacked off lately, to about once a week. We're lucky to get to it once every two weeks, which means going three weeks between mowings hasn't been out of the norm.

We used to be considered lazy -- at least by our parents when they came visiting, and probably by our neighbors too polite to comment. But today, I think you could argue that we're environmentalists.

I was cutting my lawn Sunday afternoon when I suddenly realized that all of these years, my wife and I are probably doing the right thing, or at least, we're not doing the wrong thing. I completely understand why someone would want to have a well-manicured lawn. I look at such yards with a mixture of awe and envy, but it hit me today how much we're saving in money and energy, because we don't take better care of our lawn.We've never had our yard treated by a lawn care company that sends a truck out and has someone spray a bunch of magical chemicals to make our grass blades perfectly aligned. That used to be because we couldn't afford it. Later, it was because we still couldn't afford it.

But eventually, we came to realize that we really didn't want to kill off our weeds, crabgrass and dandelions. My wife, over the years, has become a rather rabid birdwatcher -- and she knew our lawn had become valuable real estate for our feathered friends.

And a few years ago, to my horror, she insisted and talked me into letting her grow a little prairie -- maybe 15 feet long and seven feet wide -- so the birds could get even more use out of our yard. Then last year, our "prairie" grew by about 20 feet, and this year, she doubled it. I cringed every time I wondered what our neighbors thought of us.

But then when I was mowing the lawn Sunday, it suddenly occurred to me that in these high gas prices, I'm obviously saving a little money by leaving some of the yard uncut. Moreover, my wife's nature instincts have been on the mark. We live in a rural town, somewhat in the countryside, but we're still in a subdivision with numerous well-kept lawns and idyllic flowerbeds. We may have a little prairie, but this isn't a setting like Little House on the Prairie. And yet we've seen what I think is an impressive allotment of wildlife while living here: 54 different species of birds, according to my wife, and on numerous occasions, six different kinds of raptors: sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper's hawk, red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, barred owl and a great-horned owl.

Ten different kinds of butterflies have been spotted in our yard, along with seven types of dragonflies and two different kinds of snakes (OK, there are some downsides). And there have been families of possum, raccoon and deer that have wandered into our yard.

So maybe by not taking better care of our lawn, we're taking better care of our lawn. There's definitely a benefit to wildlife by allowing one's yard to go au natural, and I know that there's been something of an economic boost to our bottom line. We have avoided spending thousands of dollars in lawn care fees, and by cutting fewer times and letting a little of our yard grow wild, we're using less gas. It's almost enough to make me think of giving up mowing the lawn for good. But not quite. Even a lazy lawn mower has his limits.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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