The Teleology of Grass

I’ll probably be criticized for my grass again this year –it’s getting rather long. People tell me it’s because I don’t cut it, but I can’t accept that. It’s grass for goodness sakes –it’s meant to be eaten not decapitated.

Perhaps I should explain, before you write me off as some sort of New Age Grassist. I do not worship grass, nor do I sacrifice stuff at its behest. It merely is, as am I. But I suppose that’s not enough is it? We tend to need more than that –teleology springs to mind. We’re all teleologists when you get right down to it. Like children, we ask difficult questions, but we want simple answers. There is a point, however, beyond which because is simply not the answer to why.

So, in an admittedly lay attempt to answer the question Why is grass? I do not wish to fall back onto the theological becauses of which many of us have hitherto been so fond. I wish to posit that the answer is far more terrestrial, far more pragmatic: grass evolved, simply put, because sheep did –post hoc, ergo propter hoc, eh? Or is it the other way around? I get confused with all the hocs.

Anyway, I realize that answer is itself a leaking Pandora’s Box –or, in a more contemporary idiom, a Matryoshka doll, full of dark entendres for other unnamed herbivores. Full, in other words, of an infinite regress of yet more and more whys. And hocs…

I began to see grass as a problem when I was living in the city. It didn’t make any sense for me to grow the stuff in the front yard, only to be forced to cut it down and then throw it away just so I could still see the house from the sidewalk or tell if the kids were near the driveway. So I made the decision to move to the country and commute to work. It was there I had the epiphany: meat did not grow in those little packages in the store; it once had legs, and wandered around… eating grass.

After a quick check with the neighbours who, at the time, were stretching the limits of their knowledge just keeping chickens alive, I decided against any animals they felt would threaten their children. Cows were out, it was explained to me with angry eyes, because they were so big and people that lived nearby were frightened at what effect a stampede might have on their gardens. Having grown up with the same cowboy movies as them, I could readily sympathize with their concerns.

They encouraged me to get a couple of horses -although they’re big, they rationalized, horses have names like Flicka and Dancer. And no horns -apparently that’s important as well. Still, I don’t understand horses, and I was told that you can’t just leave them alone in a field for weeks at a time. Also, I don’t ride, and I have to admit that the idea of taking them for extended walks along a busy road every day was not at all appealing. I also did not relish the size of the disposable bag I would have to carry.

No, it came to me that grass is for sheep, so I bought a flock from a farmer who wanted to move to the city and see what a clean lawn was like. He explained that with his sheep, I could just let them wander around so I wouldn’t have to pet them, or anything. And he never used bags.

After I retired and had time to look, however, I realized I didn’t actually need a whole flock. In no time they’d polish off a field and then stroll around baaing as if their life depended on it -or worse, just lie there staring at my conscience, hoping I’d notice they were chewing on disgusting stuff they’d stored for emergencies in secret intestinal cupboards. There’s not much for them to do in the winter either, so you have to keep buying hay for them, and taking out unfrozen water for them to drink before it freezes again -sort of like Sisyphus… Well, sort of. The obvious lesson in this, though, is that sheep are not much good without grass. So I sold them all –well, they were pretty old, so I actually just gave them away.

I thought about the problem one winter, and realized the answer was simple: buy lambs in the spring, turn them loose on the fields around the house and then, well, send them to other pastures in the fall –and sell the meat. So, an economists dream: they eat the grass for free all summer, and then recoup their initial cost in the fall. It’s win/win all around, although I did not interview the lambs.

This year, however, the idea caught on in the neighbourhood, and so my traditional source of lambs was not available. My usual source of grass was, however, and it got me wondering what our ancestors did with all their grass –before they had animals, I mean… Before they discovered cows and stuff. And certainly long before they realized there were some kinds of grass that they could sell in baked goods in little road-side stands. I imagine green was merely a kind of thick shaggy background for them, and unlike for their prissy descendants, no big deal. It was just something they had to wade through to get to the cave. They had no idea that people would one day be upset if they had to get out of their cars and struggle through it to their houses all the while worrying they might drop the pizza or lose their keys.

Now, it seems, we’ve taken the whole idea to its extreme –if the lawn has any members in it higher than the sidewalk, it’s messy and unkempt. But I reject that position as totally anti-Darwinian and propose a corrective regression to the mean -somebody has to step back and revisit the norm. I feel called to reinstitute a healthy respect for the random -a recognition of what Nature no doubt intended all along. Scattered amongst my knee-high grass is an assortment of flowers: dandelions, foxgloves, daisies… weeds -anything that has seeded there from the neighbouring gardens. The area around the house has become my fallow; I run an equal opportunity yard now. I kind of wish some sheep had applied, though…

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