The benefits of sloth to one’s fellow creatures

This Earth Day post on a New York Times blog, about why dandelions are ok and “Wimbeldonlike” lawns maintained in their sterile protection by a chemical arsenal are bad, left me nonplussed — not because I disagree; I’ve written before about my natural lawn care, my preference for wildflowers over grass and my thorough distaste for gas-powered lawn mowers. I was happy to see somebody in so mainstream a publication taking a stand, even a modest and polite one, against chemically-maintained lawns.

What I had trouble getting my head around was the author’s horror at the thought of what his neighbors must think. I am dimly aware that other people live in more expensive neighborhoods with homeowners associations and social networks that aren’t comprised almost entirely of homeschoolers, artists, farmers, and academics, but really — I thought — are people that worried about their impact on other people’s property values?

But of course we’re all bound nervously by these same sad little conventions and struggle, some of us anyway, to break free. I myself often feel vaguely guilty for not doing something or other around the house or the yard, something I feel I’m supposed to do even though I know in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter, and — let’s be honest here — I really just don’t feel like it. I’d rather bake macaroons and play the banjo and read through historical newspapers, which is what I did yesterday afternoon instead of painting the back door.

So it’s with joy and relief and, yes, a little smug satisfaction that I’ve been reminded lately, twice, that my laziness and irresponsibility actually benefits some of the other creatures that share these woods with me. Nature’s little thank-you notes. Redemption for my sins and whatnot. To wit:

1. Last fall I cleaned most of the windows, but I didn’t get around to the ones in the study. One of them is now edged thickly with spiderwebs. I really should clean them off, right? But: yesterday morning, a hummingbird came back to the window, again and again, picking off bits of the spiderwebs for her nest. Instead of peering through a clear window at empty woods, we got to watch the hummingbird at work, a fascinating thing.

upland chorus frog

The upland chorus frog thanks you for not bothering. (Image from the National Park Service.)

2. This evening at dusk, walking in the woods, I heard a chirping from the ground, a few feet off the trail. I stepped through the brush as quietly as I could, crouched down, and realized that the sound was coming from within a pile of pine straw I’d raked from a clearing and dumped over the fence. It was, when I raked up the clearing last month, a big pile of pine straw a few yards from the road, not especially attractive to most humans. But it’s broken down a bit and stays moist awhile after rains, and so it is apparently quite attractive to the upland chorus frog, which is what was nestled in there. Another chirped back from several feet away, probably in the ditch by the road where I don’t bother to mow. I looked around with a flashlight but couldn’t see through the pine straw — still, that’s the sound; you can hear a recording on the linked site. Until a couple of years ago I’d have thought it was a cricket.

Neither the hummingbird nor the chorus frog is doing me or anybody else any harm — ok, unless you’re an insect in that straw-pile — and clearly they appreciate my lack of effort. And really, I find their company more entertaining and edifying than that of most responsible homeowners; they have about as much to say, but they don’t bore you with it, and they don’t drink all your good beer. So if anyone asks, or if my Calvinist conscience nags, I am not putting off the yard work. I am maintaining a wildlife habitat.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.