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The Truth, Mainly - 06/16/1997

Surrendering to Creeping Charlie, getting back to Paradise

This is the summer Iím surrendering unconditionally to the Creeping Charlie. Iíve given it bits and pieces before, but now itís the whole yard.

You know what Creeping Charlie is. Itís that spreading, cloverish, ground-covery stuff that really likes growing in Lincoln—sun or shade, acid or alkali—in much the way kudzu really likes growing in Mississippi, the main difference being that Creeping Charlie wonít grow up your nostrils while you sleep in the hammock. It doesnít attack. It creeps.

And in May and June, it has those sensual little blue flowers to make sure everyone notices it isnít Kentucky bluegrass.

When I tell people Iím surrendering my yard to Creeping Charlie, they smile uneasily—as if Iíve just told them Iím going to stop clipping the hair that grows out of my ears and nose.

They see my surrender as a character defect, a sign that in my dotage Iíve given up respectability. Next, they probably imagine, Iíll give up changing my socks and underwear.

Well, theyíre wrong.

Iím letting the Creeping Charlie have my yard as a matter of principle. Itís another manifestation of my dirty rotten secular humanist rebellion against Puritanism.

You donít see the connection? Stay with me a minute on this.

When the Puritans came to Massachusetts in the 1620s, they brought with them their great admiration for the Doctrine of Original Sin. ďIn Adamís fall,Ē theyíd fondly tell their children, ďwe sinned all.Ē

An important part of the doctrine was that while everything was lovely in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve ate the apple, itís all been pretty nasty ever since. Before the apple, it was eternal springtime, animals all got along with each other, there was no kudzu. After the apple, Adam had to go to work, Eve had to have babies, animals got all snarly, Russian thistles popped up like dandelions. Nature turned mean.

And that perceived adversity invigorated the Puritans, made them feel even more martyred. So when they came to the New World, their leader, William Bradford, was pleased to report being surrounded by ďa howling wildernessĒ—Nature unleavened by Calvinism.

The Puritans turned to the obvious remedy: they set about changing the howling wilderness into a great big lawn of Kentucky bluegrass.

And thatís how we got where we are today, much to the profit of the fertilizer-pesticide-herbicide complex that has played on our Puritan fear of the natural to convince us that a good lawn is a triumph of virtuous chemistry over wicked Nature.

Sex is also part of wicked Nature—hence, H. L. Menckenís definition of Puritanism as ďthe haunting fear that someone somewhere is having a good timeĒ—and so we cut our Kentucky bluegrass before it can flower or go to seed. As Michael Pollan noted in a NY Times essay, ďlawns are nature purged of sex.Ē

The Truth, Mainly


And in my secular humanist rebellion, I say to hell with all that.

Not that Iím averse to Kentucky bluegrass. It probably grows in Kentucky the way Creeping Charlie grows in Lincoln—effortlessly, naturally, the way Nature intended it to grow.

But Iíve given up growing Kentucky bluegrass in my yard for the same reason Iíve given up growing porpoises in my rain barrel. From now on, I grow only what wants to be grown. I no longer shake my fist at Nature.

For those who say Iím just quitting like a quitter, that this is all just a rationalization for my own laziness, I have a more powerful rationale for letting the Creeping Charlie have my yard. Itís The Biblical Argument.

Here it is:

Creeping Charlie is divinely endorsed in the very first chapter of Genesis. Yes! Itís when God is admiring the still-unspoiled perfection of the creation and proclaiming it good. On His list of good things, along with the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air, and so forth, is a more inclusive category: ďevery creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth (my italics).ď

Nothing there about Kentucky bluegrass that needeth mowing once a week, that needeth water and fertilizer and herbicide and pesticide even unto the end of time. Just every creeping thing that creepeth.

So letting the Creeping Charlie have my yard is a sacramental act. Iím recreating a little Eden, a small Paradise where, a little while after morning has broken like the first morning, while red birdís still singing like the first bird, I loll about in sweet surrender to the sensual little blue flowers of a pre-Puritan Godís benevolence.

Thatís my story and Iím sticking to it.


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.


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