Archived Story

Why allow one burning but not another?

Published 9:58am Friday, April 13, 2012

Column: David Behling, Notes from Home

Glorious spring is now fully engaged, with bright green lawns — freshly mowed — erasing the dull winter landscape. Tulips and daffodils are blooming in yards across town, along with those steadfast harbingers of spring: crocuses. Apple, pear and cherry trees soon will glow with blossoms, if they haven’t already started. Hopefully the drop in temperatures earlier this week didn’t cause any permanent damage.

This feast of color and chlorophyll does not happen without human involvement, however. We plant most of those flowers, and we create those oh-so-green lawns. And we pick up branches and sticks that accumulate with winter’s blasts so that the mower doesn’t experience too much indigestion.

While I enjoy the clean smell of a garden in spring and love to see growing things appear from what appeared to be barren ground, I am not eager to carry out all the chores that those household flora require. While I have my limits — mostly involving humidity and mosquitoes — I enjoy the quiet task of weeding the garden. It’s a chore that needs to be repeated, fairly often, but it’s also one which lets me see the progress I’ve made.

Mowing is a different matter. I hate lawns. Despite the cooling effect they provide to the house in summer, despite the delicious greenness providing relief from the harsh heat of asphalt and cement, I would rather do almost anything else — clean litter boxes, unplug toilets, eat lutefisk — than deal with the lawn.

Mowing every few days, weeding all the time (unless I spray weed killers), fertilizing, de-thatching, replanting. All of that work seems pointless to me, all that effort and money devoted to the cultivation of an invasive species. Lawns are unnatural, and a creation of the 20th century suburb.

It’s no mystery why I see lawns in such a negative light, as an alien landform. When I was growing up, we had gravel, sand and cactus outside our house in Tucson, Ariz. Lawns were imported from far away, and required gallons of water and hours of work to keep them looking as if they were still far away. There was a Lutheran church near our house with hedges, lawn and shade trees that looked as if it had been plucked from rural Minnesota. I shudder to think how much they spent on water every summer.

When it comes to lawn chores, it’s the sticks scattered all over the place that really annoy. Or what I should really say, it’s the disposing of them. Which brings me to my weekly whine: Why doesn’t the city have an annual yard waste day, with pickup of branches and other lawn and garden debris? Or better yet, why can’t I just burn them up once or twice a year?

Is it because burning irritates sensitive nasal passages? Is it because of allergies or emphysema or some other medical condition? Because if that’s the reason, I don’t understand why many of my neighbors are allowed to heat their homes with wood-burning stoves. Those irritate sensitive nasal passages. Those wreak havoc with allergies and other medical conditions. Many is the winter morning we’ve woken up to a house that smells like a fireplace — only we don’t have one.

So with no pickup or trailer, the pile of sticks grows and grows until it becomes a fire hazard. In past years, I’ve hired someone to take them away. I’ve bartered them away. On occasion, my father-in-law has allowed me to borrow his trailer so I can take them to the landfill myself. I’ve secretly burned them in an outdoor fire pit while pretending to roast hot dogs and marshmallows (not my proudest moment).

What I’m not doing is loading them into the trunk of my car; I have my limits when it comes to abusing that poor, neglected vehicle.

Perhaps someday, somebody will be able to give a logical explanation as to why one kind of burning is OK and another is not. Or why some of our local property tax can’t be used to fund an annual or semi-annual yard waste curbside pickup service. Until then, the pile will grow until I can’t ignore it anymore.


David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.