leave it to me to use habitat metaphors, being married to a biologist who manages wildlife (plus, i was a biology minor in college, people…i’m clearly practically a biologist myself). i can say this, though. being steeped in late summer of our third or fourth year with the prairie (that’s right. greg turned our front yard into a prairie. we’ve had our share of city officials showing up at our door with many a citation in hand. we’ve been lucky enough to have avoided a ticket thus far. i think they know our breed well. the kind that will go to the papers) and i can tell you that the prairie has lost some of it’s glitter. in that way, i thought to myself the other day watching the bees swarming around my car door as i tried to enter, a prairie in your front yard is like a marriage.
sure, at first it’s all pretty flowers and a cool lifestyle. “hey,” you think to yourself, “i can be the kind of person who grows a prairie on my front lawn. hell yes. i am committed to this lifestyle. i will make a life with this prairie.” and sure, it can be easy at first, seem charming and even predestined. you and the prairie seem to be the perfect fit. you love the sounds of the insects, the way the long stalks ripple in the breeze (i’d like to see your average lawn grass do anything resembling a ripple), the colors and the way it changes throughout the year. you feel connected to it, though, maybe you don’t really know it as well as you could (oh, you will), from what you can see, there is no down side here. happily ever after, right?
then things begin to change. the gloss wears off a little, and the cool prairie that you traded in your lame regular grass for? it’s grown a bit here in its third year. now, from the side of the house, you can’t see up to the porch. it’s like a maze every time you leave your house. with two small kids constantly roving about, you can imagine how this could be a little inconvenient. the bees love it, yes, and are constantly sucking up the nectar like drunks on a bender, so stay out of their way. no one has been stung yet, but i have to imagine that this is only a matter of time. but they are not the only ones who love the flowers and other plants. there are now a whole host of odd insects you’ve never seen the likes of living in your converted lawn (plus pretty much all the bugs from other peoples’ lawns probably run over to ours when the “grow it green” people come around with their little “caution: toxic lawn” signs. our lawn has become a refuge to the neighborhood insect populations). like that one week in july when there were flies in so much abundance in your yard that you couldn’t eat outside and any time you left so much as a crack of window open, there would be twenty or more for you to kill on the inside of your windows once you were back in the house. that was fun. because, you see, your lawn is like a prairie and attracts the pollinators, but many of the natural predators that would be found in a real prairie are missing. so you get these unexpected hatches (explosions) of odd things. didn’t see that one comin’, didja?
oh, and remember how you have seasonal allergies? well, now that you have these huge pollinating plants in your front yard, they are pretty much year round allergies. the mail people hate you, the UPS people scowl at you, your neighbors wait for any reason to call the city on your ass, and there is nary a person who passes your house who doesn’t slow down to look with confused, sometimes outraged looks on their faces. sure, the one hipster that lives in dearborn may have shouted a “nice lawn, man!” to you as he pedaled by on his ten speed bike, but that hardly makes up for getting hit in the face by wet plant stalks as you walk by to try and find your way to your car in the morning.
there’s so much you didn’t know about a prairie, isn’t there? liking, even loving a prairie is different than living with one day in and day out. and even though you thought you knew it, you are constantly learning new things about it, things that might not be so easy to deal with, things that might make you wonder if you should just mow the damn thing down and put down some nice carpet-like sod.
but it’s your prairie. you’re stuck with it. for better or for worse. in sickness and in health. to honor and cherish. as long as we live here, anyway.