Ruminations on a Suburban Lawn

It’s quiet around the house, everyone is tired. Well, the cat and dog are always asleep, but the bipeds are usually long gone by this time of day. Our little postage stamp of green in front of the house needs a bit of owner attention. It looks brown and patchy and some of the long stalks are sporting seed heads.

‘The Plan’ is to get rid of most of it and put a small desert wash out there with some Larrea, Erioginum, Artimesia, and annuals out there, leaving a patch of bunch grass up near the house [probably Buffalo Grass (Buchole dactyloidies)] for cooling and for the dog to use. He’s allergic to the grass we have in there now and its painful to watch him walk out on the grass to do what he has to do. I always imagine him saying "ouch, ouch, ugh, ow, ooh, ouch" as he gingerly makes his way to his preferred spot. He’s an old Welsh Corgi, he’s arthritic and often very uncomfortable. He gets more medical attention than Audrey and I do combined. I’m allergic to that grass for that matter, I’d like to see it gone.

I mentioned the Desert Demonstration Gardens at the Water District where I work. It’s a beautiful place with its primary mission to show that xeriscape doesn’t mean dumping a load of pink gravel on your front yard and spreading it to your property line. Anyway, they have an incredible assortment of what you can do to make a beautiful space while keeping what I like to call the ‘desert ethic’. There are several small plots of sod there, all lined up with gages that keep track of how much water the sod uses, the temperature at the surface, how much transpiration is taking place so you can tell if the sod will aggravate the humidity in your micro-climate. I spent a long time laying on those various sod patches to see which ones bothered me. I mean, what good is a lawn if you can’t lay on it and look at clouds, wrestle with the dog or kids on it, or walk barefoot in the gray desert pre-dawn coolness?

I was completely comfortable with the Buffalo Grass, I could lie on it face down inhaling the earthy aroma of loam and humus. I hadn’t smelled that for thirty years. I didn’t even get all the way down on the Bermuda and Fescue varieties. My palms and knees were already itching in the very small amount of time it takes to kneel, then lay down. They want a lot of water too, unlike the Buffalo Grass.

I like the idea of having a little patch of desert wash, even if its a trifle contrived in this cul-de-sac existence. There is great peace in the desert, a calmness unlike the manicured lawns I drive past to get home. There seems to be an overwhelming collective denial of being in the desert that permeates the town. It’s as though no one really wants to admit that they live here now instead of where ever they came from.

That shows up in strange ways, like few parks, no place for kids to play except the subdivision streets, no place to ride the bikes their parents or grandparents have bought for them. No place to be a kid. I didn’t wander through desert washes when I was growing up. The woods were a five minute bike ride from where I grew up. Heck, you could ride your bike for ten minutes in any direction from the center of town and be out of town. It was plains uplands one direction, but the woods were to the south which is where I usually went. If you kept going you’d come to the Marias des Cygnes river. I’m not sure if the French ever saw swans there though. I’ve seen Snowy Egrets down there in the spring, along with Greater and Lesser Herons, Sandhill Cranes, and lots and lots of ducks, Coots, Mergansers, Canvasbacks, geese, and once, 14 Whoopers.

The Whooping Cranes were a big deal for the ten days or so they were there. This was in the dead of the dark night of the extinction watch they were under during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Topeka TV and newspaper from the far off (40 miles away) state capital noted their presence, but our science teacher Miss Rioth (now Davies and a Ph.D. chemist at the University of Kansas) had told us they were there a couple of days before. It was like glimpsing something much, much larger than yourself, seeing these birds and knowing that they were teetering on the brink of extinction and that folks from Texas to the Arctic Circle were working to save them. They seemed pretty oblivious, though we had been cautioned not to disturb them so we didn’t. But if the canoe happened to drift through the cat-tails to within 30 yards or so of them, we’d let it. We’d just stay real still and not even whisper when we were that close, just watching. ‘Just passing by folks, no need for alarm, we’ll just drift on past in a bit. You all just go ahead and keep eating whatever it is you’re eating. Nothing to be concerned about here.’

Later, when we were long past them this verbal torrent would come out of us. ‘Did you see when that one ate that little root thing? Did you see when that one rubbed its wing with its beak? Did you see when that one told the other one this is my spot, you find your own spot? Did you see when that one put its head underwater and came up with that gnarly thing and ate it? Did you see when that one looked straight at us and then went back to what it was doing?’ Yeah, I saw. I saw it all. I still do.

The previous winter was unusually cold and unusually long. An Arctic Owl was spotted about 10 miles northeast of town after it apparently came down with the cold front. This was along the edge of the woods along the creek before you get to the old Culver place, about two miles past where my Grandparents lived. Those were neat woods, there were Bobcats up there too. But that’s another story.

I suppose I never even had a chance to be anything but a scientist. I suspect that the self-selection starts very young, with what intrigues you and what you like to do. I remember (probably with advantages) being interested in stuff that came from scientists. Dinosaurs, planets, the Space Program, wildlife, rocks, arrowheads, what happens to Mr. Schrödinger’s cat when we look in that box. No, I don’t think I ever had a chance to be anything else. I’m glad to be where I am.

I gotta go mow that lawn.


X-Files: First Person Shooter I was hopeful that the second episode by William Gibson and Tom Maddox would be, well, better. Mulder and Scully Go FPS Tom Maddox talks about the episode at Daily Radar. There is a lot of discussion, mostly negative, at slashdot. Theres a lot of places between what the author(s) wrote and the final editing to really screw up a story.

[UniSci] Mass Species Extinctions Predicted – Unless… "It doesn’t take a close encounter with a comet to wipe out 40 percent of the species on earth. Chainsaws and bulldozers can do the job just as well."

[Reuters] Museum Sues Indians Over Meteorite Ownership: "The American Museum of Natural History sued an American Indian group Monday to block its claim to the 15.5-ton Willamette Meteorite, one of the museum’s oldest treasures and a centerpiece of its newly opened planetarium.":

[MacInTouch] Don Crabb,1955-2000.


Lunar Colony Could Go Up Soon — on Earth
The city council of Hesperia, in the Mojave desert 50 miles northeast of Los Angeles, voted in January to plan to build the world’s first lunar colony, but they will skip the tricky part of going to the moon to do it.

American Southwest Could Be Facing 10-Year Drought
It’s too soon to know for sure, but some climate experts suspect we’re shifting into a new phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). This is a long-term Pacific sea temperature and sea surface pressure pattern. If these climate experts are right — and it may take another 10 years of data-gathering to settle the question — the American Southwest could be poised at the beginning of a drought that could last 10 years or longer…

Saw this at BBC News. Space Imaging, the company that operates Ikonos, will point the satellite at an area you request and have the image e-mailed to you within a day.
Orbital Imaging Corp, Earthwatch Inc, Space Imaging

Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’ papers in question following college fire


A very good friend of mine, Historian Karl Friday (University of Georgia), is going to be here (Las Vegas) next week for DEMA (SCUBA industry convention). They’re flying him in from Japan. I love this town!

President Clinton is going to declare some new National Monuments in the West.

President Clinton is scheduled to visit one of the most revered natural wonders in the United States on Tuesday, the Grand Canyon. But some nearby residents say they are not happy about Clinton’s visit and the reason for it.

The president is expected to expand the national monument status of the region to include about 1 million acres of land near the canyon.

PRIMATES ON THE BRINK New List Spotlights World‚s Top 25 Most Endangered

After surviving a century with no extinctions, 25 species of apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates now risk disappearing forever, according to a report released today by Conservation International and the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN–the World Conservation Union‚s Species Survival Commission.

I’ll update later if I can – I’ve just started a new position.