Hope May Spring Eternal, But Grass, It Seems, Does Not

SATURDAY'S HERO

April 06, 1991|By Rob Kasper

Every spring I have the urge to sow seeds. When the sun is warm, and the wind is gentle, I go out in the back yard and plant grass seed.

I rake. I fertilize. I scatter seeds. And I keep my fingers crossed and hope that maybe this year something will make it to the seedling stage before being trampled to death.

The tramplers are my children and their buddies. And as happens in families, the kids have pretty much taken over the back yard.

When we moved into the house, the previous owners, a child-free couple, had the back yard looking like a photo spread in Rowhouse Beautiful Magazine. There were symmetrical flower beds, azaleas ringed by blooming ground cover, and, the highlight, a crescent-shaped piece of grassy lawn.

Now 10 years and two kids later, the landscape of the back yard has changed. The flower beds are still there but the flowers are asymmetrical. Some show up and some don't. A few brave buds emerge from the earth every spring. But many other flowers are missing in action, silent victims of an summer afternoon excavation or casualties of an evening "tank drive."

The blooming ground cover, something called ajuga, withstood the assault of Kid No. 1. But Kid No. 2, a real ground warrior, has taken out a substantial portion of the once-invincible ajuga.

The grasslands now resemble a flood plain. Which is only appropriate because that is basically what happened to the grass. It was flooded out.

Kid No. 2 has an attraction to water. Although he and his foxhole-digging buddies have devoted some time to pond building, the kid's primary interest is in moving water. The faster the flow, the better.

Warm weather, also known as "hose season" in our household, is the high water mark of the year. In these months, when I arrive home from work, I often have to ford a stream rushing from backyard down the alley. The water is moving at a rate that hydroelectric engineers would envy. And along with the water are the top two inches of backyard top soil.

The source of the water is usually an overflowing plastic backyard swimming pool fed by a throbbing hose. There is no swimming going on in the pool, instead it is being used to make "potion." The recipe for "potion" appears to be 5 parts water and 5 parts dirt, with the dirt coming "fresh" from the yard.

The backyard grass, not being formulated to survive under water, has died out. There used to be "brown spots" in the yard, now there are "grass spots."

This bothers me. As a son of the plains, where the waving wheat still smells sweet, I long for a grassy spread.

And even though I know better, last Saturday I still went to the hardware store and invested in box of fertilizer. I was delighted to see that fertilizer now comes in boxes with holes in the top, so I can just sprinkle the stuff on. Just the right size for a small yard. And I got a small sack of grass seed.

Then, in what I thought was a move right out of Tom Sawyer, I got my water-loving kid and one of his buddies to help me plant the grass seed.

Grass seed is supposed to be sown evenly, but these two 6-year-olds distributed the grass seed the way politicians gerrymander voting districts. They each claimed a section of turf and packed it, the denser the better. Later, I judiciously redistributed the seed to make sure all sections of ground were treated equally.

My seed sowers were soon distracted by the discovery of some worms. The worms were taken hostage in an empty ice cream container.

Half an hour later I looked out in the backyard and saw a soccer game being played on my freshly seeded soil. So I am not betting on much of a grass crop this season. But the worms, which I later freed from captivity, give me hope. Worms help grass grow. And if the worms survive the coming summer floods, I can sow my seeds another day.

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