We had the first sunny weekend of the year. Gloriously sunny, with temperature in the 50s and 60s, even going briefly to the high 60s. All right, I am not converting any of this into Celsius, as it is all below 20 deg Celsius, and you are all going to laugh at me. Twenty degrees is warm? Well, it is for me.
I don’t know what you guys do on sunny weekends. Go to a movie? Stroll around the park? We wanted to do all these things too, but what we really did was dig up our lawn.
All we wanted to do was plant a couple of apple trees we had bought last week. Now, I must clarify what I mean by planting trees. As a kid, I thought there was only one way to plant trees. That way was to get some politician and whisper “twenty point programme” in his ear. The next thing you know, he would be digging a hole and planting a sapling, with twenty photographers following his every move. After that, the sapling would usually be forgotten, and some other politician would plant another sapling in the exact same place next year.
That’s not the way we plant trees now. For one thing, we do not plant saplings, we plant actual trees, 10 and 20 feet tall ones. You see, we don’t have the patience to grow trees from saplings. So voila! instant trees! Not that we do anything very different from the politician – like we don’t water our trees much either. But astonishingly, all the trees we planted last year have actually survived the winter and started to put out leaves.
R and I went into the backyard to take a look at likely spots for the trees. The backyard is mostly lawn, dotted with a few trees on the sides. This was really the first time we were looking at our lawn in a long time, given that the lawn had, until quite recently, just been a huge pile of snow. We decided to walk around the lawn looking for good spots to plant the trees.
That’s when we saw them. Strangely shaped random patches across the lawn where the grass had mysteriously died out. There were curves and arcs and meanderings that looked like little rivers had run through the lawn and pooled into tiny lakes. Even more curiously, each patch seemed to have a channel running in the exact center, mimicking every twist and turn of the dead area.
Was it grubs, we wondered? The garden centers in all the big box stores had scared us into buying huge bags of grub control that was supposed to prevent armyworms and cutworms and all kinds of bugs that we had never heard of. We had dutifully sprayed all this over the lawn, but perhaps it wasn’t enough?
We asked the experts at the garden center. They consulted among themselves and thought deeply about the problem.
“Do you have dogs?” they asked us. “No? Then, well, umm..”, they said with confidence, “we don’t know what it is”.
So we decided to tackle it ourselves. We set about raking all the dead grass. So there I was, looking stylish in my sunglasses while digging in the dirt. (I did say it was very sunny, right?)
The good news was, the dead grass came out easily, and I found new grass shoots underneath. And however hard I looked, I could find not a single worm shaking its fists at me..
Meanwhile, R had taken out the spreader and started to spread fertilizer around the lawn.
The mystery remained though – how did the grass die out? R thought it was perhaps the dead grass clippings from last fall’s mowing. Perhaps they hadn’t decomposed, and had dried out..
“Perhaps we should blow away the grass clippings thoroughly after mowing”, I suggested. No doubt you are wondering why I said “we”, even though I have nothing to do with mowing the lawn. I was trying, you see, to show that I do not completely blame R, or rather that I do, but I am too good to say so..
But R would have none of it. “No, no,” he insisted. “It doesn’t matter. I only need to make sure that the last time I mow the lawn before winter, I should blow away all the clippings. Just the once.”
Our neighbor saw us working on the lawn. So he grabbed his own spreader and made a few turns around his lawn. Then he came over to chat.
We compared notes about our mystery patches and he proudly showed us the patches on his lawn.
“We have a mole” he said.
“A mole?” R asked him. “What mole?” This is what happens when you read too many spy novels. You can only associate moles with men in dark glasses transmitting military secrets to China.
Since our neighbor is of Chinese origin, this must also rank as the first time in history that the Chinese have admitted that the Indians have a mole.
“No, no, mole, you know”, the neighbor said, waving his arms as if to conjure up a mole, “it burrows under the snow and creates those patches”.
Now my mind was filled with visions of Mole running down my lawn after a red car and shouting Poop! Poop! Poop! Too many re-reads of “Wind in the Willows” combined with standing in the hot sun can do this to you.
So I came back and researched more about the moles. It turns out that sadly, we do not have moles after all.
We have voles. Or, as they are otherwise known – field mice. Those lines in the center – those are called “runways”. Both moles and voles create runways, running under the snow in the winter, like they are training for the Marathon. Or the Mole Vole Derby.
I would have preferred to have moles. Not that I liked Mole much, I actually preferred Ratty (the Water Vole). But moles only eat worms, which could mean I can save on grub control. Voles eat plants, shrubs and bulbs. I wonder how many of my tulip bulbs have already made for vole dinners. Did they have my tulips for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Is that why I cannot see a single tulip shoot in my backyard, while they are already out in the front?
I spent all afternoon clearing up the vole runways. They will have to train for the Marathon elsewhere now. Then R sprinkled in some grass seed and fertilizers on the patches. In two weeks time, with any luck, the patches will recover.
But it’s not the moles and voles I dread. As I surveyed the results of my labor, I remembered the flyers I had been getting in the mail the last few weeks. Flyers from “lawn care professionals” who promised to revitalize my lawn with “dethatching” and “tine raking”, all for the low, low sum of $150.
What I had just finished must surely be dethatching on steroids, I thought to myself, given that I had filled two huge yard bags with the thatch. You’d think this is all we would need to do, right?
But I can see exactly what is going to happen next. R is going to call in one of those professionals, and they are going to charge $150 just for swishing the rake around, and bringing a fancy machine that they will run up and down my lawn. They will dethatch and tine rake and aerate and whatnot, and my lawn will look no different from what it is right now. Maybe it will look more beautiful from the inside. You know, inner beauty and all that?
So what did I do all afternoon? I probably just spent an entire weekend afternoon making it easy for someone else to earn $150 without doing anything much…