king from some sandy North African kingdom was treated to a royal tour of
England in the 1930's. After days of grand sights and sumptuous treatment,
the king was asked by reporters what had impressed him most. The desert prince
answered without hesitation. "Grass."
I understand perfectly the king's
sentiments. I, too, was a desert resident before moving to Ireland.
In the Mojave Desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas we had
grass, but it was safely contained in little clumps, small islands
of green blades and yellowing stems scattered every few feet.
Unless you were prodigal with your expensive water and planted
a tiny patch of manicured lawn, grass was a plant of no great
importance to the landscape.
Then I moved to Ireland. Here
grass demands attention. First, grass is green. I mean intensely,
vividly, brightly green. I know it's a cliché for Americans
to gush over the Emerald Isle. But, when your eyes have grown
used to the soft pastels and tans of the desert, grass is positively
psychedelic. Grass is so green my eyes ached from looking at
it during my first days of adjustment.
Not only that, grass is everywhere!
You see it in fields, on house lawns, in the cracks of sidewalk
pavement. You don't even have to hook up an irrigation system
to make it grow. Nature is bountifully exuberant with the stuff.
I was here more than a year before
it really sank in that all that grass I was seeing was more than
pretty scenery. That's when I made my next great discovery. Every
Irish field is cut and mowed, by human machines or animals, at
least three times a year. Different varieties of grasses and
clovers are planted for different farming regimes. The green
fields are plowed, disked, rolled, limed, cut, watered, fertilized,
topped, and replanted. Grass is the mainstay of the agricultural
sector and, because of it, Ireland is a land of milk and money.
Grass, I found out, can be more
than a pretty lawn. Here it's a crop!
My most recent growth of grass
sense came when my daughter asked me to help her carve out a
small vegetable plot, a garden measuring 6 feet to a side. I
confidently attacked the scutch grass covering the chosen site
with a new shovel and great energy. Two hours later I was a tired
wreck of a Dad, worn and aching. I managed to wrestle a square
patch of dirt back from the grass - but just barely. For the
first time in my life, I understood why a spade has always been
regarded as an essential agricultural tool, and why the horse
and ox were so highly prized by generations of plowmen and farmers.
Yes, grass is green and abundant,
a pleasant covering for the Emerald Isle. Yes, it is a source
of food and employment. One thing more: grass is tough.