Buckhead, Georgia was inundated with 24.4 inches of rain during the months of June, July and August of this year, a record that should stand the test of time and change flood insurance rates for eternity. Given the resulting proliferation of grass and weeds on my plantation I thought it a propitious moment in history to discuss the effects of this dramatic climate shift and briefly discuss the history of grass cutting as it applies to your average guy.
Up front I should say that my summer, which is often devoted to fishing, golf and an occasional quickie on the seat of a lawn mower, was pretty much reduced to keeping the grass and weeds at bay. It was a fight that went the entire fifteen rounds and resulted in a TKO in favor of Mother Nature. My centipede grass as well as various species of weeds threatened to grow up the walls of our house and engulf it like some sort of abandoned shack. Had it not been for my heroic efforts our humble abode would have been completely obliterated by plant growth.
As I alluded to earlier my fishing and golfing outings were severely curtailed and that turned my normal sunny disposition sour. Modern grass cutting techniques notwithstanding I spent most of my waking hours this summer on the business end of various implements designed to keep the grass growth down to a manageable level.
That brings us to the history of grass and yard maintenance. How did those who lived in more primitive times cope with this situation? How was it possible to keep order on the old home place when there were no zero turn mowers or weed-eaters? For answers I turned to historical pictures of yards, my daddy’s perspective, and of course the exalted Internet for answers.
In the earliest pictures I discovered that cave men, in the period referred to by historians as that of hunters and gatherers were very ingenious. They simply let their goats out in the yard and those fine fellows cleaned it up leaving the boys free to go hunt and fish for meat and trap for furs. If the yard wasn’t to their liking they just moved over a couple of mountains to the next yard and started over again. I must say that is a strategy worth considering even today.
As I proceeded through the records of antiquity it became obvious that domesticated animals continued to play a primary role in grass and weed control. Whether I looked at homes in Europe of the 16th century or North America in the 19th century it was always the same. I didn’t see many immaculate yards in those pictorials but neither did I see people wading through a sea of grass outside their homes nor did I see any references to doing yard work. They had it figured out.
As my research continued on into the 20th century I decided to talk to daddy for some information. How did they go about keeping up their yard in the 1940’s? The short answer was this — they didn’t have any grass, just dirt. Because there was a constant procession of wagons, mules, and later on tractors, grass didn’t have time to take root. If some sort of plant stuck its head up in the yard they just took a shovel and scraped it up. That is food for thought — no grass at all.
I then probed my memory banks for methods of cutting grass that I could remember from my youth. My first recollection was of a swing blade. You young folks aren’t going to even know what I’m talking about. If you have ever seen the movie Cool Hand Luke or portrayals of chain gang prison details you will see that a swing blade is a tool used for lopping off tall grass – back and forth one swing at a time in the manner of a pendulum and is extremely taxing work. This technique was reserved for prisoners and small boys who got in trouble with their daddies. You were not going to be in the running for “Yard of the Month” with this method but it was a highly effective tool when it came to keeping weeds at bay and as an approach for changing behavior.
Our family soon vaulted into the push mower phase of technology and the first one I was fortunate enough to encounter was of the home-made variety and it weighed in at approximately two hundred pounds. My grandfather had put it together and we took it with us when we moved to Rutledge. Since we had not yet evolved into the bush hog stage of development we used this paragon of ingenuity to clean up our new sixty acre farm. It was quite a blessing for a young man to have access to such modern equipment as this and I was given ample opportunities to put it to use.
In retrospect I think what has happened is a change in perspective. Yards today are expected to be neatly trimmed, free of weeds, and as green as the Garden of Eden. Because of that we have evolved into a lawn mower riding, weed-eating, fertilizer strewing crazed culture that simply cannot continue to exist. What we need is a return to the past here so I’m thinking of selling my lawn mower and getting some goats or either using a little more advanced idea and just put Round Up on the yard and kill it. We can learn a lot by studying history.
Maybe now I can get back to the fishing hole and the golf course — if it will just quit raining.
Alvin Richardson is a contributing writer, retired educator, and public speaker. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org