From my writing desk, I can see my neighbor’s sodded lawn beginning to come to life again. Yet their yard always reminds me of a death tragically caused by lawn chemicals many years ago now, yet still a fresh memory.
My neighbors’ grass was greener on the other side of the street. Their turf was free of the weeds that plague my own, but this seeming luxury came with a casualty.
Marlie, my neighbors’ mixed breed dog, suffered kidney failure caused, the veterinarian said, by herbicides and pesticides used on the sod.
My neighbors adopted Marlie just a month after their wedding. I never introduced myself to the new neighbors until the icebreaker puppy came on the scene. My neighbors walked the puppy around the block; and soon the puppy looked more like a dog. Before long, the walks included a stroller and then a stroller for two. Marlie, in big sister fashion, helpfully carried her leash or her Frisbee in her mouth to free hands in demand by the two little girls.
Marlie’s death struck me as particularly poignant because my own dog Friday had been diagnosed with cancer the previous fall. I always wondered whether Friday’s disease was triggered by chemicals in our environment. Even though I garden organically, not everybody does. And back then, fewer people paid heed to warnings about garden chemicals. When I walked my dogs, I steered them clear of lawns where the little warning flags flapped in breezes.
When Marlie died, something died with her. An innocence. A nonchalance. I grew increasingly outspoken against garden chemicals. My neighbors ended up moving to the suburbs. Of course, they were heartsick over losing their dog–especially given that the premature death probably could have been avoided had they foregone the chemicals to boost their turf.
I know remorse of this stripe because many years ago, probably 20 by now, I applied Round-Up to some particularly unruly noxious weeds. The weeds turned yellow, dried, and died.
But so did a lovely, red-shafted flicker, a male. I found the dead bird right next to the spot where I applied the weed killer. Some people told me it was coincidence, but my conscience told me otherwise. With my spade, I lifted the beautiful bird and noted the softness of his melon-colored breast, the fierce point of his beak, the gleam of his still-open eyes. His corpse was so light. My heart was so heavy.
As you create your own patch of Eden, read and heed labels. Better yet, opt for organic. My garden gets fed with compost from my bins and perhaps, from time to time if I find the time, watered with some fish emulsion. But even if you garden organically, you’ll want to be aware of pets and wildlife. For example, the cocoa hulls used as much can be toxic to dogs. Remember that your garden is an ecosystem affecting everything in and around your property.
I pull weeds by hand now, dig them, or let them be, taking pains not to use potentially dangerous herbicides and pesticides. Even though I no longer have dogs, plenty pass by on their walks. Foxes, cats, birds, butterflies, lady beetles and other helpful bugs visit my little corner of the world, too. I want my garden to provide habitat–not pose deathly dangers.
••• “Cultivate your corner of the world. You grow your garden; your garden grows you.” ~ Colleen Smith •••
Colleen Smith’s debut novel Glass Halo, set in Denver, was a finalist for the Santa Fe Literary Prize and was praised in the latest issue of The Bloomsbury Review. The novel is available online and through your favorite bookstore.
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