As a youth growing up in New Jersey -- the Garden State -- I spent many hours atop a riding mower, cutting my grandfather's acres of lawn while coping with my allergies to all the verdant trimmings.
My transition five years ago to Washington was easy, thanks to Pierre L'Enfant, who made sure that the District didn't lack for parkland or bucolic retreats. But when I became a homeowner about a year ago, the postage-stamp lawn that came with my rowhouse seemed a laughable substitute for my native New Jersey turf. About 14 feet wide and 10 feet deep, my yard appeared to be the clone of 20 or so other yards on my Capitol Hill street.
But to my surprise, my little yard has become a source of the kind of communal fulfillment that Robert Frost made famous in his poem "Mending Wall." Frost told the story of two neighbors who each spring fix a shared wall that had fallen into disrepair because of winter's wear and tear. The maxim that "good fences make good neighbors" is the famous centerpiece of his poem, one theme of which is the need for shared societal duty.
The previous owner of my property didn't go in for extravagant landscaping or gardening. A lone rose bush sat in the middle of my yard next to an unruly shrub that threatened to overwhelm it until I came to its rescue.
The Washington weather makes yardwork a weekly necessity in spring, summer and fall. I soon learned that the most efficient and speediest way to trim my yard was not with a lawn mower but with a weed whacker. No more sitting atop a strident tractor like some suburban sovereign reigning over his lands. Instead, I am connected to my source of power by a long cord that snags on every object in its path.
Some of my neighbors have purchased -- or, more likely, inherited -- push mowers, and despite their resemblance to Dagwood Bumstead, they make quick work of their yards.
On more than one occasion, I've returned home to find that a neighbor has mown his lawn and mine too. Sometimes I'm not even sure whom to thank. The properties in my neighborhood aren't divided by walls; they have only low, wrought-iron railings to delineate the property lines. So in my turn, I've often hopped the rail of a neighbor who is out of town to return the mowing favor.
When I bought my house it came with one yard, but now I often feel as though I have two or even three yards. And like the neighbors in Frost's poem, I am mended by the yardwork I do. Sometimes I wonder, though, if my neighbors share my feelings, or if all they see when they gaze out their windows is a small patch of grass in constant need of attention.
-- Richard Lukas