Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Fear of Nature

I'm just back from Macondo in San Antonio. It was wonderful to see all my friends, even though I wasn't able to take the workshop I'd planned and signed up for with terrific writer, Carla Trujillo--even though we drove two days to get there, spent the day and gave a seminar, then drove two days to get back.

My plans were changed because I don't want to have an unbroken bluegrass front lawn in my front yard. One whole side of it is native plants, herbs and drought-hardy perennials. In the spring and early summer, it's a riot of flowers--daffodils, tulips, Mayapple, yellow bells, Siberian and bearded iris, peonies, gayfeather, roses, sage, peppermint, fennel, rue, lilies, daylilies--but in mid-summer when the heavy heat and burning sun hit, the herbs get leggy and nothing's blooming but the purple coneflowers and Blackeyed Susans. It's at this time of the year that my neighbors, who cut down trees and shrubs and dug up perennial flowerbeds when they first moved next door in order to have nothing but grass and two hanging pots of plastic flowers, call the city on me for "rank weeds over ten inches tall."

The city usually sends me a warning notice. I call and explain that these are not weeds but native plants and herbs. I agree to trim the most unruly (mugwort and lemon balm) back some, and that's usually it. This year there was no warning notice. Just a summons to court with the threat of arrest if I didn't show--and the option to plead "guilty" and send a fine of $125 and cut down my plants. And so the battle was on.

Unfortunately, court landed in the middle of Macondo week, but Ben and I were still able to keep our commitment to give a seminar on small press publishing and book contests there and to see many of my dear Macondo friends. Before Macondo and now afterward, it's hard work outside in terrible heat. 112 degree heat index, anyone? (San Antonio was a blessed relief in that regard, though it was 102 and 103 degrees when we were there. It's much drier than KC and thus the heat is not as oppressive.)

We are turning one long garden bed into four smaller ones plus a patio. (I'll post photos when we're finished.) We are corralling mugwort, tansy, sage, lemon balm, and costmary with tomato and peony cages. We are putting in ticky-tacky fence bed edgings and paver walkways. We are transplanting a rose, three hybrid daylilies, three bright orange Oriental lilies, five Blackeyed Susans, six native daylilies, eight Stargazer lilies, and twenty Siberian iris to the front beds of the garden. All of this is designed to make it more apparent to the eye of passing yard police that this is a garden, not weeds. (Though how anyone could not see it is a garden right now when about twenty naked ladies, otherwise known as surprise lilies--the native American amaryllis--are glowing pinkly right in the middle of it with tall gladiolas with large white and peach bloom spikes beside them is beyond me!)

I am trying to be non-confrontational. I have been gathering information on how much better these plants are than a lawn, and I have been gathering information and trying to get some testimony from yet another city department that has been trying to persuade everyone in my neighborhood to take out lawn and plant rain gardens just like mine. The city has designated my neighborhood as a pilot project called Target Green, and if everyone does as we have done, the city will be spared the million-dollar cost of installing new storm sewers. I'm willing to make cosmetic changes that cost money and effort (neither Ben nor I are in good shape for heavy garden work right now) if that will make it easier for my neighbors and the city to live with my garden. What I am not willing to do is to rip out my plants and put in bluegrass lawn, which is even worse than concrete since it absorbs little stormwater and requires massive water resources and toxic chemicals to thrive in this climate.

I live in the middle of the big city of the metropolitan area, Kansas City, Missouri. Another friend who lives in one of the Kansas-side suburbs just had his city on his neck over sunflowers he had planted in his front yard. Yes, he had to yank out his sunflowers--the state flower of the state of Kansas. I've been reading in this area now as I do research, and I'm finding that cities and towns all over the country are doing amazing things to people for trying to grow native plants. Some have been thrown in jail. Some have had their gardens clearcut by city contractors and then been charged hundreds of dollars for it. It all seems to fall under the heading of "property values." For some reason, people think a neighbor's yard that's not all lawn lowers the value of their property. Many of these people making these complaints are quite conservative, get-government-out-of-our-lives-type people--except when it comes to their neighbors' yards. Then they want government in front and center dictating to those neighbors that they must conform.

I think it's a control issue, of course--and as my sunflower-loving friend says, "These people don't have enough to do in their lives!". But also this is a symptom of our society's fear of nature and the natural world. This fear is a sickness, I believe, since we are a part of the cycle of nature and the natural world, no matter how we want to pretend we're not. In cutting ourselves off from nature, we are cutting ourselves off from our source, our ground.

So, at any rate, that's all the news from here, except for the wonderful bit that my book, Heart's Migration, is one of three finalists for the Thorpe Menn Award.

Now, back to digging in the earth. Which is good for the soul, if not so great for the back and joints. I go back to court on August 13. I'll post the results here.