Should we mow our lawns?

“Oh, no, daddy! Watch out for the toad!” My six-year-old daughter nearly broke into tears as the tiny toad jumped out of the way of our rumbling riding lawn mower.

This was our first time mowing our new property and Harper was on my lap calling out the crickets and grasshoppers and toads.

Start. Stop. Start. Get off. Sometimes I had to move a life to a safer place.

I’ve always been the type of mower who would stop for an insect when I saw them. I think I was influences by all of those bug cartoons and movies that pitted insects and shrunk kids against the evil lawn mower. But, here’s the thing, when I’m on the mower I do my best not to see the tiny little lives. As if out of sight and out of mind meant out of harm’s way.

I catch and release spiders much to my wife’s dismay. Smooshing spiders has a much higher spider removal success rate than catching them in the house and releasing them into the wild. Recently a quick spider in Harper’s room left me with no choice, but to smoosh. Harper nearly cried. Just as she did when I sprayed the wasp nest in our basketball hoop. One of the wasps fell out and she hollered, “Daddy it’s suffering!” Prompting me to immediately step on it.

Let me take a moment to acknowledge all the hypocrisy and flaws in my bug saving logic. I save a few bugs per year and I kill many more. American motorists are responsible for an estimated 32.5 trillion bug deaths annually.  I’ve eaten caramelized crickets in Cambodia and I’m nowhere near a vegetarian. Many, many things die because of me.

A Massacre?

Jason Donati, a friend and environmentalist, recently shared a post on facebook about a couple in Ohio who’ve decided to stop mowing their lawn altogether.

For the first two years, she said, “I mowed like a normal person.”

In 2013, she said, she began to experiment, letting parts go natural. Last year, she let more of the property go natural and bumped into the township’s zoning inspector, who told her she needed to mow the yard.

“I was about to go on a long vacation, like a month, and didn’t want to leave this situation unresolved, so I mowed it,” Baker said. “It was terrible, like a massacre. I ran over a snake and killed it. I killed a toad. I cut down all of these beautiful native plants and wildflowers. It was so upsetting.”

She hasn’t mowed since.

Habitat Lost?

One of the reasons we moved into the country was to avoid some of the rules and laws and social conformities that come with living in city limits. By God if we want chickens, we’ll have chickens. I want to be able to take a leak outside. If we don’t want to mow all of our yard, we won’t mow it.

We’re still used to mowing though. In fact, we mowed for 3.5 hours. However, we’ve decided to allow an acre of our yard to go unmowed. It’s at the front of our property near the road. There’s still that perceived social pressure though, so we mow a strip of the yard along the road and lane to show that “we are people who keep up their property.”

The story about the folks not mowing has some interesting arguments for not mowing.

Baker, in a July 4 letter to Frederick, said, “A mowed lawn, put simply, is habitat loss. It’s a barren wasteland that provides no food or shelter for wildlife. It’s a virtual green desert.”

She filled the three-page letter with cross-referenced facts to support her case. She said that a gas mower, running for an hour, emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55 mph for the same amount of time. And that the EPA reports that 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled each year by people refueling lawn equipment — more than all the oil leaked by the Exxon Valdez in 1989.

She said letting nature’s balance be restored on her small slice of Earth attracts pest-eating birds to tall-grass seed heads. Bees and other pollinators are attracted to the wildflowers.

“As Christians, getting to do this, turning our property into a sanctuary, is an opportunity to be a good steward to God,” Watson told the trustees. “Having to mow that property would feel like a violation of my values.”

As much as I feel her arguments, I still love the look of a mowed lawn, and there are few things better than running barefoot through your own lawn playing a game of tag or kickball or whatever.

I currently have this argument with myself that it doesn’t make sense to mow yard that you don’t play in. There’s no way we’ll play in our 3.5 acres of mowed lawn on a regular basis. We’ll continue to mow it all the same.

Sorry insects and toads. If it makes you feel better, I struggle mowing straight as I try to avoid making eye contact with you.

A yard may be a barren wasteland, but we’re using ours to raise kids. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Show we mow? What do you think?

Jacob Younce says:

Honestly, I don’t think that mowing your yard is that big of an environmental problem. Sure, mowing your lawn hurts the environment more than not mowing it, but there are bigger environmental problems to focus on, and using your lawn mower every 1-2 weeks to maintain a nice looking yard doesn’t make you an environmental villain. Snakes, toads, and other critters can make do with their portion of Earth’s landmass. That’s just my view of it.

Catherine Nadals says:

Mowing is harmful to the environment on many levels. I say, no. But neighbors will balk. I think converting lawns to cultivated gardens makes sense as is the English tradition. I still mow but feel guilty about it every time. It also seems tremendously stupid and a waste of time. What is it about a lawn that is at all necessary? I try not to mow the grass too short and never use pesticides. Wildflowers still grow, just shorter. I have lots of clover which insects love.

Let your voice be heard!