Jerry Nelson: The lawn zombie

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum

It returned again this spring like a lawn zombie.

The sinkhole near our house came back even though I had vigorously disinvited it. We’re not talking about a car-eating crater. It was merely an earthen pothole, albeit one that could tip a riding lawnmower, afflicting its operator with no small amount of indignity.

There’s little mystery regarding the genesis of the sinkhole. About four years ago, we replaced our septic system. I told our plumber guy that since he was here, he should fill in the old cistern near our house.

I’d heard tales of people or pets falling into forgotten cisterns. And, “Oh, no! Little Timmy has fallen into an old abandoned well!” should naturally be followed by “Who’s the doofus that’s responsible for that abandoned well?”

Wanting to safeguard all possible future Timmys, I instructed our plumber guy to get rid of the cistern. He punched through its top with the giant steel knuckle of his excavator and packed the cavity with dirt. I smoothed out the soil and planted grass. Life was good.

I wasn’t surprised when a sinkhole formed at the site of the cistern the next spring. It takes at least one freeze-thaw cycle for the soil to fully settle. I fired up my ancient skid loader and filled the void with fresh dirt. New grass was seeded. Life was again good.

This spring’s sinkhole caught me off-guard. After all this time, I’d assumed that this issue was settled.

The latest iteration of the sinkhole didn’t look very big. I didn’t think it was worth firing up the skid loader, that it would be just as quick to refill the hole by carrying dirt in 5-gallon buckets. I reckoned that about four bucketsful would do it.

As is often the case, I woefully underestimated the size of the task. When I packed the first dirt into the sinkhole, I discovered that it was shaped like an inverted mushroom. Numerous buckets of dirt were needed just to fill in the cavernous undermined areas.

Four bucketsful quickly turned into dozens. Yes, it would have taken less effort to use the skid loader, but by now I had become committed to the process. I wasn’t going to let a stupid hole in the ground make a fool of me, by golly!

As I tamped bucket after bucket of soil into the sinkhole, I wondered how much it would hold. Was there a homeowner in China who at this very moment was gaping at a mysterious dirt mound that was popping up in the middle of his lawn?

At last the sinkhole was filled with packed dirt, its surface raked smooth and grass seed applied. Our cat, Sparkles, who had been superintending from a safe distance, sauntered over to inspect my work. She sniffed the new dirt, then proceeded to dig a hole. Perhaps she thought she was doing her part by adding soil amendments.

This all makes me wonder: why do we obsess over lawn care? What’s the point of surrounding our homes with a groomed expanse of greenery?

I think it’s our way of exerting a small degree of orderliness onto a world filled with chaos. There are so many things that are beyond our control – the weather, our kids, our nose hair – that holding sway over a little patch of grass feels like a major victory. Mowing a lawn is an exercise in Zen geometry.

Sparkles hates the lawnmower. As soon as the mower starts, she runs off to the barn to hide and won’t come out until the menacing machine has been silent for a good while.

Few things soothe the soul like sitting on the deck on a warm spring afternoon and looking out across an expanse of freshly mowed grass. A cold refreshment is in your hand; the perfume of blooming plums or lilacs adds a slice of olfactory heaven to the tableau.

I gaze benevolently upon my tiny kingdom and watch my subjects go about their lives. Blackbirds and robins are doing a brisk business in the field of worm acquisition. A goldfinch flies off with a tuft of fur in his beak. The warmer weather is causing our dog, Sandy, to shed blizzards of winter hair. Based on the amount of wool he’s left on the lawn I would estimate that Sandy is least 50% fur by volume.

There will certainly be other lawn care skirmishes. There will be bald patches to reseed and crabgrass – the nose hair of the landscaping world – to battle.

But for now, I’m going to soak up the scenery and relax. Although I’m also keeping a weather eye out for zombie sinkholes.

Jerry Nelson