Monday, June 28, 2010

Leaves of Grass

Grass is a luxury – have you ever thought of it that way? An outdoor living carpet, it brightens up our yards, gives us a place to run barefoot, and in some areas of the country it grows naturally – all you have to do is keep it trimmed.

But we live in the desert, where grass is something to be cherished. Water restrictions have reduced the number of grassy front yards here, but many people still have a small rectangle of it in their backyards, watered by the requisite sprinklers that pop up four times a day and shower it luxuriously.

When you move into a new house in Las Vegas, the front yard is landscaped by the manufacturer, but the back yard is up to you. This means that while you unpack boxes and move around the new furniture, your view out back is of dirt. And I mean it – all you have is concrete block walls enclosing a flat dirt-and-rock yard.

We know that someday we’ll put in a pool, so we’ve been doing our backyard slowly on our own. (Why put money into it when it’ll just get ripped out someday?) We started on the left side of the yard and installed a high trellis to block the neighbor’s house, then we added a gazebo and outdoor furniture, then a stone path and plants. If you hold up your hand and hide the half of the yard that is bare dirt, it looks great.

The one thing we were missing was grass. We had avoided it because we didn’t know how to install those pop-up sprinklers, but finally I found a solution. I went to the nursery and bought five pieces of sod, which we laid in a long strip next to the path and hooked up to our regular watering system, hoping it would stay alive.

Our reason for adding grass to the yard, albeit a small amount? George. I knew he wanted grass – he often walks around the yard sniffing the plants as if he’s looking for it. And sure enough, I was right. As soon as it was laid out, he ran over to it, walked through it, ate some, then peed on it. He was in heaven. And two weeks later, the grass is still alive (surprisingly) and he runs straight to it every morning, first thing. After relishing his patch of grass, he stands at the end of the path – the part we haven’t finished – and stares at the dirt-half of the yard as if saying, “Would you get off your lazy asses and finish this thing?” (We decided that if George could talk, he would cuss now and then.)

I can’t help but feel that that little strip of grass has made our house seem more like home, more inviting, more…normal. Grass grows where families are, where people enjoy their yards and gather together. To me, nothing seems more like summer than the sound of a lawn mower or the whir of a fan in an open window. You don’t hear those often in the desert. And now, my husband can stand out back with the garden hose and water his very own patch of grass, a testosterone-filled ritual that every man seems to enjoy, like barbequing.

In celebration of our new grass, and in honor of the grass lying in your yard that you usually take for granted, let’s join Whitman, and loafe and invite our souls, lean and loafe at our ease, and observe a spear of summer grass. George and I will join you.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Beach Dogs

Dogs live the sweet life, don’t they? Always concerned with their pursuit of pleasure, they exemplify the “appreciate the small stuff” mentality that I crave. But which dogs have the best life of all? Beach dogs.

Sitting on a beach clears my head more than anything else I can think of. I love to go out early before the crowds appear, when it is still quiet and there are more seagulls than people. Something about the raw energy of the waves wipes everything away – the petty stresses of everyday life, the monotony of our daily routines – and makes me prioritize and refocus.

A dog on the beach is almost redundant, the ultimate pleasure-seeker in the ultimate cathartic location. And you can’t help but feel happy watching a dog on the beach. They jump in the waves, roll in the sand, lie in the shade of beach umbrellas. They don’t have stressful lives to forget.

This week a couple down the beach from us brought their boxer and a football. The man and woman threw the ball back and forth, the dog running after it each time, until one of them finally missed and the dog grabbed it in her mouth. She ran probably 50 yards before the man caught her and they both ran back into the water. Later they brought out a white ball just for her, and she swam far out into the waves to retrieve it every time. I wasn’t as relaxed watching this – I never am – I’m always afraid they’ll throw the ball too far and the dog won’t be able to swim back. The dog always looks so helpless, a tiny head holding strong above the rough water, appearing between breaking waves until it can finally stand again, shake off, and chase the ball out again.

In Hawaii a few years ago, I watched a dog play catch with the ocean, unaided by any human. The dog sat on a section of beach that rose higher than the water, creating a slope to the waves. The dog sat atop its little hill, released his ball from his mouth, and it rolled down the sand until the waves brought it back to him again. He did this over and over while I watched from my little area on the sand. Smart dog.

George didn’t get to go to the beach with us this week – instead he stayed at our vet where we were promised by a lady in scrubs that he would get to go outside 6-8 times per day. But a few years ago, we did take George to the beach for a day. We left early in the morning and drove to Laguna, had about six hours and lunch on the beach, had dinner at an outdoor place, then drove home. It was fun seeing George experience the beach. He loved being out and sniffing all the smells, but he could have cared less about the ocean itself. He got his feet wet but didn’t care to get in the waves like other dogs. Maybe we should have demonstrated? George’s favorite part of the day was lying on a beach chair under our umbrella. Of course he didn’t lie on the sand – he wanted the chair. Smart dog.

This week we resume our normal lives, but I hope to keep a bit of the beach vibe with me as long as possible. I’ll print out some vacation photos, wear a seashell necklace, and give George an extra pat on the head as he looks up at me expectantly. After all, he is a beach bum at heart. All dogs are, don’t you think?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


When viewing land from the air, trees look like broccoli. And there’s a lot of broccoli in the Midwest, covering huge swatches of land interrupted by occasional rectangles of fields and huge circles of watered crops. Vegas, on the other hand, is just a big populated area surrounded by brown. And while there are trees within the city, they aren’t there naturally - they’re all connected to the water supply by a huge intricate sprinkler system.

In the Midwest, I drive along little bumpy country roads and marvel at the fact that not one of these plants or trees or bushes is hooked up to a sprinkler. And the roads aren’t just lined with weeds – they’re lined with huge groups of orange lilies with huge flowers and lush green foliage. No one had to plant these – they’re here naturally. Naturally.

To get water in the Midwest, you can hook up to the town water supply, or you can tap into a spring or dig a well. When I was a kid, before we got town water, our supply came from the spring far above our house on a hill. When it rained, our water turned muddy. In Vegas, I feel extremely guilty every time I water our plants because I know I am contributing to the draining of the already low Lake Mead. And yet, every plant in Vegas, every palm tree lining those casino entrances, has to be watered by Lake Mead.

When I’m in the Midwest, I drive past greenhouses and plant stands and wish I could go buy some flowers, trees, or bushes for our Vegas home. The plants are varied and vibrant – they just cry out to be taken home and put into the fertile earth where they’ll settle with a contented sigh and happily live their lives with you. In contrast to Vegas where we have to use a pick axe (I’m not kidding) to dig a hole to plant something, Midwestern soil just lies there and invites you to softly dig with a hand spade and add life to your yard. I miss gardens that are supposed to be, plants that want to grow there, and ground that doesn’t fight you with lifeless dirt and rocks. Midwestern gardens don't instill guilt.

Yes, I may be a tree hugger who hates wasting water, but my desire to create an escape in my backyard – a mini Midwestern oasis to remind me of my roots and take me home – will force me to continue to hook up sprinklers and make my husband get out the pick axe. My apologies to Lake Mead and my husband.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Proud to be a Tree Hugger

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Park Ranger when I grew up. I envisioned myself in deep forest green, protecting wildlife and wandering in the woods. My Ranger Rick magazine was eagerly anticipated each month, and I envied the kids in the ads for summer camps in the national parks. Grizzly Adams was one of my favorite TV shows; who couldn’t love a guy out who lived out in the woods and had a bear for a best friend?

As I got older, my career goals changed, influenced by dance lessons and theatre rehearsals. And I realized in high school that the science classes I would need to save the environment weren’t my strongpoint – I excelled all things creative – a very different path.

Although my job has never been environmentally related, I have retained my love of nature. My husband calls me a tree hugger, a term he jokingly uses as a slam but one I embrace wholeheartedly. Oh, if only the world were full of tree huggers, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.

But my purpose for this blog is not to incite anger or to begin a political debate, so I will only generalize my urge to protect the environment. I just hope there are people out there who feel as I do. Does the oil spill in the Gulf make you feel panicked like me? Do you get angry when you see people filling up their grocery carts with plastic bags of food? What about the population increase that is slowly taking over the planet, sucking up its natural resources – the very things we need to survive? Does that worry you?

I believe it should. This isn’t an issue of saving a couple of animals or trying to have a Suzy Sunshine outlook on the world. We have one planet - only one - and I’m afraid that everyone else won’t join in my panic until it’s too late. We need a sense of urgency - for the species of animals that will eventually be gone – for the oceans that are our trash cans – for the wide open spaces that will no longer be.

Sometimes when we walk George at night, my husband points out the fake grass in some of the neighbors’ yards and laughs at me when I say I hate it. And yes, that fake grass is saving water. But the reason I hate it is because for me, it’s a scary omen of our future. Fake grass. Fake trees. Fake animals. And all of these as our only option – not as our choice.

Our planet can only take so much. We humans have to make smart choices now, before it’s too late. And I’m talking about more than just recycling a few cans or using reusable grocery bags – while good, those are just a drop in the bucket. I think we all need to look at the big picture and start to panic a little.

Okay, now I will step off my soapbox.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Still, at 10:35am

I sit in Mountain Crest Park as George runs around sniffing the ground, enjoying the unseasonably cool weather we’ve had. With temps in the 70’s, I wear a light jacket to ward off the cool wind and sit with the sun on my back. The noise of the wind drowns out most of the noise around me, muffles the noise of the city, so that I sit in a frozen, still spot where events happen quietly around me, like a TV with the sound on mute.

Far away across the huge park, a jogger runs silently, bobbing up and down with every step. The tops of cars are visible as they pass to the south, but even they are quiet. Only the faint hum of the distant freeway reveals we are in a city.

Trees rustle and move in the wind around me; so do the doggie disposal bags hanging from the dispenser on the fence. My silhouette’s shadow on the cement shows my hair flying in the breeze.

Birds chirp from the tree by me. The gate of the dog park clanks as someone enters. George grunts as he finds a really special scent. Dog tags jingle as a new dog runs by.

Kids play silently in the faraway playground. Hundreds of houses lie in quiet rows on the foothills to the west, and tall red mountains tower above them, watching. A lone mountaintop, taller than the rest, hangs onto its last blanket of snow.

Only a few miles away, people are furiously working, in offices and factories and buses and casinos. Thousands of tourists are oohing and aahing and losing money in loudly clanging slot machines. Above us all, thundering jets crisscross the sky, heading to the East Coast, or West Coast, or Hawaii, Asia, Europe.

But here, in this moment, all is still.