I like my lawn. I like my lawn because it is not all grass. There is an incredible variety of plants which live in my lawn alongside the centipede and Bermuda and St. Augustine grasses which have become all mixed up out there. Some of those plants have broad leaves along trailing vines, like the dichondra and the dollar weed. Some of the plants form florets of leaves around a center stem, like the dandelions. Some of the plants even have fuzzy leaves; I am not even sure what those are called. The occasional oak tree pokes it’s lobed leaves up in the middle of my lawn. I even have one or two crepe myrtle bushes which have been trying for years to push themselves up into their towering shrub form from the midst of my lawn. Each time I mow, I think I will finally discourage the poor things enough that they will just shrivel up and disappear. But they don’t; they just spread broader and poke up more branches in their futile attempts at reaching their full potential. Bless their hearts.
But even with all of their variety, taken together, the plants in my lawn serve the same function as the grass in any lawn in an average suburban neighborhood. That is to say, those plants are supposed to serve no individual function at all. They are not supposed to stand out in any way. Instead, they are supposed to look like a uniform meadow of green. Their role in the world is not so much to paint a picture but to create a mood. Landscape designers will tell you that swaths of green are necessary to allow the eye to rest. They provide peace and calm, order and structure, shape and form, so that the other elements of the landscape can shine. They are like herbaceous background singers, offering their rhythmic hums and do-wops so that the diva-like soloists can strut their stuff on the front of the stage. That, I believe, is why dandelions are so offensive. They plant themselves in the middle of the lawn, and although they have a different texture than what surrounds them, they are not, on the whole, ugly. But then they shove their uppity, yellow blossoms toward the sky, and it becomes obvious that they have forgotten their place in the world. The nerve!
Contrast the role of those varied plants in the lawn with what is in my flower beds. That is where you will find the real stars of the kingdom plantae. I have plenty of springtime divas out there right now: the brilliant pink calla lilies glow, the gerbera daisies strut their primary yellow- and red-colored stuff, the oriental lily hybrids attract attention to their blushing petals, and the caladiums I bought earlier this spring show off the dazzling variegation of their leaves. Or even contrast the workhorses of the vegetable and herb gardens. The tomatoes and peppers and strawberries and oregano are not as gorgeous as the callas, the lilies, the daisies, and the caladiums. But the flavors they bring rival the glory of the ornamental superstars.
Each of those plants serves a positive function, and they are special because of that function. The plants in my lawn serve a negative function: they are not supposed to compete with the plants in the flower and vegetable beds for attention. And that is all.
And so, imagine my surprise and shock a few weeks ago at what I saw in the middle of my lawn. At the top of a lobed-leaf plant poking up from the middle of the lawn, about equidistant from the river birch which dominates the front yard and the flower bed which lines the front of the house, there was a tiny, white flower. And I recognized that flower and the leaves that accompanied it at once: it was a blackberry. A wild blackberry was trying with all its little might to grow and bloom and produce fruit in the middle of the front lawn.
I took some time to admire the little thing. Its disdain for the overall function of the lawn that surrounded it, along with its sheer tenacity, earned my respect. It didn’t care where it was planted. It didn’t care about the horror its presence would cause the landscape designers; it didn’t care whether my eye had an opportunity to rest between gazes at the prettier things coming up in my yard. It didn’t care that the rules say the fruit-bearing flora belongs in the back yard. It had no interest in suburban propriety. Its one mission in life was to fight for the right to bear its fruit, and by God, it was going to fight hard. It had even armed itself with a score or more of spikes up and down its three-inch stem, daring someone, anyone, to tell it that it couldn’t do what it was destined to do, right in the spot where it found itself.
There are any number of metaphors that could be drawn from this little berry bramble asserting its right to do its thing wherever it grew. I think of my son, whose intelligence and uniquely beautiful personality I can see, but who sometimes gets lost as necessary order is imposed on the jumble of dozens of kindergarten students who are made to sit still at their tables and stand straight in line and listen to the teacher and avoid distracting their neighbors. I think of activists and artists and other saints in many times and places who have stood up not only for their own right to show their unique beauty and skill in the world, but who have organized and taught others to stand up and stand out, too. I think of the narratives of my Christian faith, which give example after example of times when God has unexpectedly lifted ordinary people out of their ordinary circumstances to mediate extraordinary blessing to God’s people and the whole of God’s creation.
Any of those thoughts could lead me to lessons potentially learned from this little, wild blackberry which dared to bloom in the middle of my lawn But I am not sure a lesson is what is needed here. For now, I think I am ready to simply appreciate that a disdain for order and tenacity of purpose are not exceptional in this world; in fact, they are very natural.
I like my lawn because it is not all grass.