Thursday, July 17, 2008

Part 2: living in the rural south - a love/hate relationship


The south remains full of lush green vegetation even in the midst of a long, hot, rainless summer.

Blackberry bushes run rampant in the south and while a severe drought can keep the berries from growing fat and juicy, you can count on the brier-studded brambles continuing their struggle to take over your yard.

The sweet smell of honeysuckle heralds the official start of summer in the south. The flowering vine is a favorite of butterflies and bees and southern children love to the pick the flowers, sucking the sweet nectar from them. Don't let the honeysuckle vine fool you though. It tends to mingle with poison ivy and is known to choke the life out of anything in the path of it's climb.

The ghostly brown tentacles of kudzu in the winter doesn't mean the plant is dead. Come summer, kudzu will cover the south in a heavy green blanket, thanks to the well-meaning, although a bit hasty intentions of some horticulturists and soil conservationists. Kudzu has been known to swallow up entire farms, houses and even livestock and small children in its relentless hunger to devour the south.

Morning glories offer a brilliant splash of color to the southern landscape in the summer. You can count on it returning every year, regardless of how many times you've killed it and careless homeowners will quickly find that morning glories left unattended for the summer will run rampant, crawling up into the siding of homes, twisting along porch rails and window sills to the roof.

A whole mess of weeds threaten finely manicured lawns across the south and, having been born and raised in the south, I am beginning to believe we southerners would be much better off by giving up our fight and letting the damn things take over. After all, grass - real grass that you are trying to grow - falls into one of three categories in the south. There's brown, dirt dead and "Damnation that shit's tall!!"

Dirt dead grass generally stays that way, although clumps of towering weeds demand you mow it, throwing the dust into the air, which turns to muddy streaks on your, um, glistening, face.

Brown grass is deceptive. It can remain in a suspended state of brownness, refusing to grow an inch for as long as three months. Then, boom! A good gully-washer hits and you leave for work the next morning, hoping rain, followed by a day of strong sunshine will put a bit of green back into it. By the time you come home from work, that brown grass has suddenly been transformed into "Damnation that shit's tall!!" Inevitably, one of two things will happen at this point. 1) The temperature will suddenly top out just over 100 degrees, the sun and humidity threatening to melt you from the inside out if you even think about pulling out the lawn mower or 2) the Heavens will suddenly open up and give you a two-day gully-washer followed by six days of sunshine and a lawn mower that refuses to crank.

This potentially dangerous situation requires what I like to call the tiresome two-step. Contrary to what you may be thinking, the tiresome two-step is not a dance, although it does require a great deal of cooperation and attentiveness among partners (you and your push mower.) It's quite simple, although it does take a bit of practice. Don't worry, your partner will let you know immediately if you do it wrong by bogging down and shutting off. You take two steps forward, then two short steps back, quickly forcing all your upper body weight down on the handle of the lawnmower in order to raise the mowing deck at least a foot into the air. Hold that position until all grass clumps fly free from the blade. (Warning, this is usually when the creepy crawlies start panicking and go on the offensive, but we'll get to those in Part 3.) Now, walk forward two steps and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And don't forget to be mindful of the briers on the blackberry bushes and various vines wrapping themselves around your legs as you battle to reclaim your lawn!


  1. My partner, Bing, is from Louisiana. We have visited there a few times and I am always just flabbergasted by the incredible beauty of the flowers and shrubs. The prairie can be beautiful, but nothing like the deep south...

  2. So THAT'S kudzu!

    My Creeping Jenny is similar. Why did the previous owners put it in? Did they have no idea that Creeping Jenny would...creep?

  3. Kate - fortunately that picture is not of the kudzu on my property, but an excellent image of the complete take-over that occurs if left untamed! I've got some creeping in from the woods on the south side of my property that I'm keeping an eye on, but it hasn't hit my property line yet so I can't get in there to try to eradicate it.

    I'm in the middle of farming country and back in the 50s, soil conservationists encouraged farmers to plant kudzu to help stop erosion...they didn't realize the climate was perfect to turn it into a monster, kinda like the great, growing blob that is destined to devour the south!