Grass and margaritas

Summer's nearly officially here. That means it's time to experience the Great Outdoors from behind the controls of a lawn mower.

Lawn care is an important component of home ownership. If you want your property to maintain its value, it's imperative that you keep the grounds in pristine condition. This explains the origin of the term "sweat equity."

Yes, friends, it's time to sweat. It's time to mow and edge and fertilize and prune. It's time to spend every waking weekend hour with sweat stinging your eyes and exhaust fumes going up your nose and grass clippings stuck to your socks.

Maintaining a lawn is a form of insanity. We pour precious, expensive water on our grass so it will grow. Then we kill ourselves cutting it every week. Then more water. More mowing. More water. More sweat. You get the picture.

The alternative is xeriscaping, which means using less water and keeping your yard in a natural state. Presuming that anywhere in Nature exists a landscape of uniform gravel dotted with spiny plants, all underlaid with black plastic.

Some of us prefer the illusion of Eden. We want to walk around barefoot. So we opt for the lunacy of grass.

Lawn work can be maddening. A recent example: I set out to attack weeds in my yard. So vigorous was my attack that the head came off the old hoe I was using. I repaired the hoe and got after the weeds again. Then I went to rake up the victims. The head came off the rake. I fixed the rake, cleaned up the weeds. Then I employed the weed-whacker, which promptly ran out of trimmer line. I took this as a sign that it was time to surrender for the day and go indoors for something cool to drink: A margarita or four.

I once had a neighbor who spent all day every day working on his lawn, which was as smooth as a putting green. I couldn't understand why anyone would devote his entire life to maintaining grass. Then I met his wife, and it all became clear. As long as she was indoors, he'd stay outdoors. It was a form of detente.

Most of us, though, don't have the time or the desire to create a perfect lawn. We settle for a yard.

The terms "lawn" and "yard" often are used interchangeably, but they're two very different things. "Lawn" comes from the Latin word for "sweat." On the other hand, "yard" derives from the Anglo-Saxon term for dog poop.

Unclear on which you have? Let's look at the differences:

Lawns tend to be smooth and untouched. Yards have that lived-in look, and often feature a car up on blocks.

Lawns have clean edges. Yards have frontiers.

Lawns have ornaments. Yards have stuff.

Lawns tend to be weed-free and to consist of a single species of grass. Yards are inclusive -- social mixers where all plants are welcome.

Lawns are a consistent shade of green. Yards feature a broader pallette, heavy on browns and tans.

Lawns feel good on your bare feet, but you don't walk on them for fear of bending the grass. In yards, shoes are required, and steel-toed boots are recommended.

If you pay someone to tend your grounds, you probably have a lawn. (Or, you're getting ripped off.)

If you have children and/or a dog, you've probably got a yard. Go out and look at your property. If you find any of the following -- dog bones, soccer balls, old socks, used furniture or appliances, mysterious holes in the ground, marbles, Frisbees, cigar butts, soda bottles, beer bottles, last week's newspapers, last autumn's leaves, dirty dishes, anthills, termite mounds, fallen tree limbs, dandelions, spurge, cactus, sun-bleached toys or dead birds -- then, my friend, you have a yard.

If you'd like to turn your yard into a lawn, then you must work at it. You must attend to details such as dead birds. You must make sure your lawn-care tools are in good working order.

Preparation is the key, and hard, sweaty labor the answer.

A beautiful lawn awaits, Nature's own reward for all your work. But I'd keep a pitcher of margaritas handy, too.

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