Saturday, May 7, 2011

Thatch

As soon as the lawn clears each spring, I grab our four-wheeler and a small customized harrow and rake the ranch lawns. A harrow is made out of ½ inch steel rods fashioned in the shape of diamonds with sharpened ends, called teeth, bent and facing downward toward the ground. Pete cut this one out of an old harrow he’s used on the hay meadows for many years and secured two old tires to give the harrow some downward pressure as I drive over a lawn. This early spring ritual doesn’t take long and if I’ve done a good job the previous fall preparing the lawns, cutting them to the right length and applying some fertilizer, the stage will be set for a wonderful spring growth, the lawns easily leaving winter’s hibernation behind.

This year, Emma and Griz joined me as I set out to harrow: Emma in the front seat shaking from a chilly western breeze and excitement for our chore and Griz, at the ready in the back of the four-wheeler. After just a few turns into my harrowing, I realized the dead growth was greater than usual: the harrow was drawing up a heavy layer of thatch especially from the lawn nearest the house. I knew right away I would have to rake the thatch and remove it so the lawns would have a chance to absorb the warming solstice sun and spring rains.

Using my garden rake, I drew back the dead, leaving open spaces with each passing stroke. At first, I thought, “I’m digging in too deep, I’m taking away too much from the lawn. It may never fully grow in this summer.” And then I thought, “I have no choice, what’s dead is dead.” It won’t do any good to deny the existence of the dead grass and turf." As I raked, it felt freeing to pull back the old and open up the new small and fragile growth. Once committed to removing the thatch, it quickly felt right, like an act of cleansing, making way for the bits of baby grass sprouts to unfold, stretch and fill, the death of winter removed.

In the repetitive reverie of drawing my rake across the thatch, I imagined a similar process of pulling back the thatch in my own life. If I drew a metaphoric rake across my life, I wondered, “What had wintered over in my life? What was no longer useful to me?” A few scenarios come to mind: a number of winter sweaters that are still of use I need to give to a new home; work that I once thought central to my goals and ideals has shifted and I’m finding new work goals emerging; and relationships that have shifted or waned provide a new space in which they are redefined or deepened.

If I think about it, death of this kind comes and goes in my life with a kind of regular rhythm. But I have to be awake to the thatch, to that which has died off in order to let it go. If I hang onto it, push it around, refuse to remove it, I may be preventing the light of day from shining on the change, the dying out and the emergence of new growth.

Once Emma, Griz, and I finish our circuitous route around the lawns, we put the harrow away at the equipment shed and leave the four-wheeler parked and ready for the next chore. I always feel good when I’ve timed the harrowing of the lawns in the spring when the grass is just beginning its season of growth and my chore has given the lawns a good beginning by clearing away the winter-kill. I think I’ll always remember this year’s harrowing and raking chore. The act of cleansing the lawns and making preparations for the spring season subtly underscored the rhythm and existence of life and death in my daily life.

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