Toads able to detect earthquake days beforehand

March 31, 2010

               A recent study, published in the Journal of Zoology has found that Toads are able to predict an earthquake.  It was found that a colony of toads left their mating site three days before an earthquake occurred in Italy.  Their ability to predict an earthquake is still under question, however it is believed that they may be able to detect seismic waves directly, or the anomalies in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by a quake. Before a quake a lot of charged particles are released in the atmosphere Toads and amphibians are very sensitive to changes in environmental chemistry. These gases and charged particles could have been detected by the toads.

Lawn People

March 31, 2010

Happy lawns?

This is my week for the presentation and I am doing my presentation of the first half of this book (Intro – chapter 4) and Ben is doing the rest of the book.

Compared to Breakfast of Biodiversity, I really enjoyed this book.  I was intrigued right from the beginning, after the mention of lawns becoming something that we closely control, but something that also controls us.   One of my favorite sections was the one about nonhuman nature.  The authors point out that there is a binary formed between the concepts of the city and society and the concepts of the country and nature.  When we (people from urban areas) want to “get away” they go on vacations to areas that are filled with more nature than what they would normally see.  The author describes that what we don’t think about is the nature around us all the time in cities.  “Cities are nothing but nature – metals, glass, and water – flowing through political and economic conduits.”  I just read a chapter in Cronon that describes this and talks about how we are so disconnected from nature.  We need to understand that nature is everywhere, not just in far away, ‘pristine’ places.

I found it interesting that lawns, when first introduced to America, were supposed to create this ‘community ideal’.  The open spaces and ‘no-fence’ policy  were supposed to create this sense of community  that would lead to activities, open community interaction and open moral sociability.  The author points out that these lawns weren’t expressing American culture, they were designed to produce it.

The American lawn wasn’t as perfect as some would like to think, it had many problems that came with it.  For example, the presence of weeds and insects, as well as the fact that grass naturally turns dull or brown.  Of course, the American lawn will have none of this, so the life of a lawn person is spent tending to this lawn.  Lawn people engage in many different activities to keep their lawns looking perfect, like mowing, fertilizing, watering, fertilizing, applying pesticides, fertilizing, cutting, and apply more pesticides.  The authors point out that “we begin to imagine the rhythm of whole neighborhoods, indeed whole cities, synchronized with the habits of grass.”  I find this to be pretty entertaining, because I can actually relate to it.  Every summer, when I’m home, I mow the grass once a week.  I only have 6 neighbors and it is inevitable, one of them will also be mowing his/her lawn at the same time.  It’s ridiculous how much time is spent just trying to keep our grass looking nice.

The idea of the chemical treadmill made me realize just how ridiculous these behaviors are.  When some sort of fertilizer/herbicide/pesticide comes into widespread use, the target (as well as nontarget) insects/species develop a resistance to it.  This is because these treatments result in the destruction of predator insects that naturally control pest populations.  This leads to an even bigger problem with the prey of these predators, which just leads to conditions where more chemicals can increase or restore productivity.  More chemicals leads to more chemicals which leads to more chemicals.

When it comes to my relationship with lawns/grass, I seem to be rather distanced from them.  When I was young, I would play outside all the time; running around in the rain or just in the yard in general, playing with my dogs, riding my bike on the lawn, watching all the cars drive by.  However, as I grew up, I leaned more towards pavement, instead of lawns.  I was able to ride my bike around the block instead of just around the yard, only something big girls were allowed to do.  So, I obviously took every opportunity I could get and rode my bike around the block, instead of the lawn.  Ever since then I’ve never really been a big fan of lawns.  I realized that there is more to explore than a simple lawn, which (according to this book) is merely another mold made by the hands of society.  Also, I found it interesting that lawns were first brought about to create a sense of community.  Nowadays that isn’t the case at all.  Fence’s are everywhere, people get mad if you enter into ‘their’ yard without their permission, and there is not much open community interaction.  Lawns have simply created an even larger binary ‘natural’ and ‘society.’

Lawn People

March 30, 2010

From the beginning Lawn People was a better read than Breakfast of Biodiversity. Still, this political ecology stuff is a bit much for me, but the social aspects of the book did interest me. The concept of the lawn owning us caught my attention right away. This statement is so true. Many people are slaves to their lawns through mowing, weeding, and watering it. Our lawns keep us to a schedule and do control us in a way. Also, the information about who uses lawn chemicals and who worries about them the most also caught my attention. With higher education comes a higher usage and worry about lawn chemicals. Because the people’s homes usually cost more and they are worried about their lawn looking good is the reasoning for those people using the chemicals. These people know these chemicals are bad and these people are also more environmentally aware.

Arsenic as a herbicide blew my mind when I read it. I guess having grown up when I did and not in the 1940s and 50s makes a difference, but the thought alone of using arsenic on a lawn is crazy to me. Essentially the same type of treatments are being used today, but most of them do not have immediate affects on people like arsenic. DDT was another one of these chemicals that was dangerous, and DDT also had a huge impact on other ecosystems. I had heard about DDT in high school and decided to buy Silent Spring. After purchasing the book I have not read a page. I knew DDT was bad, but I did not realize how terrible it actually was.

While reading this book I noticed other people’s reasons for lawns were a little different than mine. Looking pretty would be the last thing on my list of important lawn aspects. My view of the lawn is strictly for recreation. I guess making a lawn look pretty is recreation for some, but for me the lawn, if I use it, is for kicking the soccer ball around, hanging out, and just relaxing.

The lawn as a buffer: If I would boil down my understanding of today’s lawn to a few simple words they would be that lawns are a buffer. Lawns today separate people’s living areas from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The lawn allows the home to be set back and “secluded”. That is just my take on the modern lawn.

Jack Albert and Lawns

March 29, 2010

A love/hate relationship I guess is what I have with lawns. Yeah! they are fun to play in as a child. I started out rolling in the grass as a child ( I am assuming). Crawling, rolling, and embracing lawns are what babies and young children will do in the grass. As life progressed I started running, playing, and falling on the lawn. For me the backyard was my domain. The front yard was too close to the busy road dominated by semi trucks, farm machinery, and cars that could lead to my possible death and the numerous lives of my pet cats. My back yard lawn was where I spent most of my time doing the typical kid stuff; playing tag, catch, and just “being a kid”. With a fence around it my yard was safe, safe from the dangerous wolves and whatever other animals my babysitter told my brother and I were in the woods behind my house. When I didn’t have to do anything other than have fun in the yard I loved the hell out of it. Watching my mom and dad mow and tend to the lawn made me want to do it too. I guess I was at that point of wanting more responsibility. I begged my dad to let me mow the back yard, it had done so much for me so why not do it a favor. Yeah, I’ll give the lawn a haircut in return for having fun on it … it was the least I could do right? After the first time I mowed the lawn it looked like Ray Charles had come to my house and mowed for me. “This is hard work”, I thought to myself. Once I figured out how to mow the lawn properly, straight lines ( I guess you can’t just drive the lawnmower around in circles) I was asked more frequently to do this chore. “Jack Albert! I asked you to mow the lawn an hour ago!” would come from my mom’s mouth. At this point I started to hate my lawn, it demanded so much from me. I was starting to receive less pleasure from playing, etc. I didn’t play catch, tag, or hide and seek anymore, so why did I have to repay the lawn? “Because I told you to”, is what my parents would have said if this question would have been asked.

The Lawns in Park Ridge, IL

March 29, 2010

I was first introduced to the question of “why humans find it necessary to take care of thier lawns” by Dr. Hickcox in his Environmental Alteration class. I had never considered this question before.  I grew up in an neighborhood where people took pride in their lawns.  Nearly everyone in my town and neighboring towns have lawn care providers.  Any given day, at any given time you can find a flat-bed truck with lawn care equiptment and spanish speaking Americans working outside a McMansion. 

Growing up our family never had someone else work on our lawn.  My parents liked to do it all themselves.  All they ever did was mow the lawn and maybe put some fertilizer in the flower beds, but they never added any chemicals to the lawn.  I still rememeber playing outside and picking these little purple flowers and dandilions in the backyard.  I thought they were so pretty.  However, sometime when I was in middle school they decided to invest in TruGreen chem lawn.  These people sprayed our lawn (I’m assuming with chemicals) once a month and just like that all of those pretty dandilions and purple flowers were gone.  They also left a sign on our yard saying not to let our dog walk on it. 

After reading this book I was interested in what would happen if a homeowner decided not to mow their lawn.  Then I remembered about our neighbors who we nicknamed the ‘hermits.’ (We gave them this name because we never saw them enter/leave their house.)  Their lawn was only maintined about once every 2 weeks by a push mower.  But between each mow their lawn became tall, messy, and unkept.  I don’t think many people on our block liked the look, but these people obviously didn’t care about what other people thought.  Good for them.  I’m not sure what I thought about them at the time, but now I would commend them for not following the trend. 

I will admit that once I own a house I will probably mow my lawn when it gets tall, and keep up the flower beds and such.  But, I will NOT hire a lawn care service or get rid of those pretty little purple flowers.

what if someone on your block didnt take care of their lawn?

My Lawn History

March 29, 2010

Growing up, I have been able to experience three different lawn extremes. First, I lived in a house in the suburbs of Cleveland with your typical front and back lawns. Then my family moved to an apartment in downtown Chicago, which had nothing that resembles a lawn but a simple strip of grass between the sidewalk infront of the house and the street (that was usually littered with trash). Now my family lives on a 23 acre farm that is dominated by pastures and fields.

I remember loving our lawn in Cleveland. The area that we owned that was taken up by our house was tiny compared to that which took up our lawn. Kids from the neighborhood were always playing out back. I know that my parents were guilty of taking lawn care to the extreme and making sure that the lawn kept up with the image of a good, clean lawn.

Living in Chicago was a different story. Seeing as we did not have a lawn to call our own, my mom took to turning our small rooftop area into a series of potted flower gardens. She even grew some tomatoes and basin in a pot on the roof. She even took out the small strip of grass treelawn in front of our apartment and planted a small prarie garden. Low and behold, we found out that after we moved they took out the garden and replanted the grass treelawn. Why was that little strip of grass in inner city Chicago so important? Who knows…

Now that we live on a farm, grass is conseidered a weed. If we ever find a single blade growing in our high tunnels or vegetable beds, we pull it out immediately before its roots can spread. Since we grow organically, we dont ever worry about spreading pesticides or chemicals to make sure our lawn is pretty and green. Also, I’m pretty sure my dad is happy he never really has to mow again. Keeping up with the neighbors is not really an issue, since they live far enough away that our lawn image should not really effect their daily life. I think I prefer this lawn lifestyle the best, however I will never forget the fun I has as a kid in my typical suburban green cut lawn. I don’t think a true childhood is complete if you don’t have some sort of lawn or grassy area to play in!

Lawn People

March 29, 2010


I actually ended up really liking this book. I thought most of this information was really interesting and it was more than I had ever previously known about crazy suburbanites and their lawns.

What struck me right away is the quote in the first chapter that “people who use more chemicals on their lawn tend to be more likely to believe that lawn care has a negative effect on local water quality than people who do not” (pg. 2). I feel like this goes along with the conversation we had about people who recycle just to be seen “being green.” He even mentioned later on in the book in the section interviewing Kingberry Court residents that most of them consider themselves environmentalists even though they treat their lawns almost 6 times a year with hazardous chemicals. They are even aware of the negative effects of these chemicals, and they still do it. So if people know that what they are doing is bad for the environment and maybe even to their own health, then why do they still do it? Is lawn care really that important? I feel like it is all an image thing. People don’t want to be perceived as poor or dirty, and they want their lawns to reflect that. Apparently image trumps the environment in the minds of most upper class white suburbanites.

In chapter 2, Robbins mentioned that one argument as to how the American lawn emerged is from “a practical matter of clearing woods and forest and keeping wild and fearful landscapes at a safe distance from the home” (pg. 19). This reminded me of our discussion on the early feelings towards the wilderness, and how it was percieved as a scary and ugly place. This makes sense in my mind, because if the wilderness was so unkown and foreign to us, than it seems only practical to keep this apart from where we live. However, with the changing perceptions of the wilderness as time goes by, why hasn’t the populations urge to keep such an unnatural piece of nature so close to home?

When Robbins talks about the science behind growing grass, he clearly states “when left alone, grass will do just fine” (pg. 37). If people can learn to adapt to the occasional weed or brown spot, people wouldn’t have to put all the time, energy, and harmful chemicals into caring for their lawns. I really think people need to start listening to the facts about growing grass, and just let their lawns take their natural course. Who cares what the neighbors think?

On that note, I also really liked the chapter where Robbins interviewed the wealthy residents of Kingberry Court. What really hit me is the emphasis on people who care for their lawns just to keep up with the neighbors. This is the classic case of “keeping up with the Joneses.” One resident says he even tries to mow the lawn at the same time as the neighbor’s lawn mowing service does just so “their yards will flow together.” Why does it matter what the neighbors lawns looks like? Why do people feel the need to make their lawns meet the standards that everyone else holds? I don’t really get it…

I really think we need to start looking at alternative landscaping options such as rain gardens and xeriscape designs. I really enjoyed learing about these techniques in Lawn People and I intend in reading about them some more. I looked up some images of xeriscape designs, and I think it is much prettier than a typical green grass lawn anyway. However, looking back to when I was a kid and growing up, it probably would have sucked not to have a lawn to run around and play in. Nothing beats rolling around in the grass on a hot sunny day. Maybe a combination of the two, regular lawns and rain gardens or xeriscapes, would be a happy medium?

Xeriscape Designs