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Mow Your Grass In Canton Or Go To Jail

By James Donahue

The City Council in Canton, Ohio, is considering a tougher ordinance that will force property owners to keep their lawns mowed or go to jail.

The town already has a high-grass and weeds law on the books that zaps first-time offenders with a fine up to $150. If the new teeth are added, second-time offenders could face fines of $250 and up to 30-days in jail.

From our perspective, with so many people losing their jobs and their homes to bank foreclosures, council concerns about untidy lawns in wishful Utopian neighborhoods seems a bit out-of-place. It just might be that the town marshal will be slapping handcuffs on bank officials, who hold the keys to empty houses where nobody lives to mow the grass.

From what we read, the State of Ohio has not been immune to the problem of massive job losses and house bank foreclosures.

The whole concept of living in contemporary suburbia in well-kept homes with large, well-tailored lawns and gardens has been a dream on the drawing boards of town planning boards for decades. It was never realistic. Reaching such a state involves fulfillment of what used to be called “the American dream;” a white house with a picket fence and a car in every garage. The truth is, it just ain't so. We may have gotten close in some areas in the years just following World War II, but the state of the nation has been on the slide now for some time.

Some years back, while working as a news reporter in a Southwest Michigan city, I met an interesting member of that communities' planning commission who had a uniquely different perspective as to how things ought to be. This man was opposed to forcing new home construction on large lots, claiming it was a waste of space and resources. He personally lived in a house in one of the original subdivisions, with lots so small there was hardly any lawn at all. He said he hated mowing grass and purposely chose this house so he didn't have to waste time on this weekly chore. He was a gifted man involved in creative arts, and chose to avoid anything that drew his attention to the mundane.

Meeting this man had a profound effect on my own perspectives. I realized just how right he was about a lot of things, including the ridiculous time-wasting activity of mowing grass. I remember how my father got so carried away with the lawn on his rural Michigan home he expanded it from the house over several acres, stretching first through an adjoining orchard and then back to and around the barn and other out-buildings. After buying a powerful riding lawn mower, Dad even developed his yard along a lane to a wooded part of the farm, and cut mowed swaths of grass as walkways through the trees so he and Mom could follow them on nightly walks.

There are rural farming areas on the highways leading through the rich soiled floodplain surrounding Michigan's Saginaw River, where the German farmers not only kept their lawns well manicured, but extended them for miles along the highways.

Not only is all this grass mowing going to the extreme, it is an environmental nightmare. Most of the mowing is being done these days with machines powered by simple two-cycle gasoline and oil mix fuels that spew amazing amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. These little mowers, and the gas-powered trimmers, leaf blowers, snow blowers and other home owned machines are worse polluters than the cars we drive.

And, of course, we all see the constant bombardment of ads for lawn fertilizers and weed and bug killers on our television screens. The ads promise richer, greener and weed-free lawns that will fill our neighbors with envy. What they are selling, of course, is poison that not only kills various plant varieties, but the rich life that exists on and in the soil. These poisons eventually work their way down into the natural aqua firs deep in the earth and eventually get into our wells, streams and lakes.

We believe the Canton City Council is somewhat confused in its zest to force people to mow their grass. The day may soon come when power mowers will be outlawed, and homeowners will be forced to use the old-fashioned hand push mowers to cut their grass. Once that happens, the size of lawns will be radically reduced, if they exist at all.

When we lived for a while in Mesa, Arizona, we were pleased to note that because it was a desert area, grass did not grow and most people decorated their sparse dry lawns with cactus and flowers. They did not mow grass. Some homes, however, were occupied by retirees from northern areas where lawns were the norm. They foolishly had sod trucked in and created grass where it did not belong. This called for excessive watering and mowing in an area where water was in short supply. The watering, in turn, causes the hot air to turn from dry to humid.

There is enough grass in Phoenix now to have changed the natural environment. The Native Americans joke about the foolish white people who have done this, but complain about the high heat, smog and humidity that makes living in Phoenix in the summer months almost unbearable. The natives say the dry heat is easier to endure, but humid, polluted air is not. And they are quite right.