Not wanting to let any grass grow underfoot, nor any leaves pile up to my ankles, I am nevertheless tempted by another comment concerning the assassination of JFK.
A reader noted that he had viewed several of the documentaries in the weeks and days preceding the 50th anniversary of the event. “Isn’t it striking,” he asked, “that the ER physicians in Dallas had a mere one hour with the body after pronouncing him dead, and less than 30 minutes trying to save his life, and absolutely didn’t know he had also been shot in the back! I saw an interview with them; they admitted it fully. I know little about forensics, even less about ballistics, but isn’t it common sense that the investigations take more than an hour on a recently deceased corpse and not days later back in Bethesda?”
I have heard that, and my first reaction is the old joke about doctors: Internists know everything but can do nothing; surgeons can do everything but know nothing; but pathologists know everything and can do everything — the only trouble is then it’s too late.
More to the point, however, is that the surgeons in the ER are trained to save lives, not to do forensic pathology. Moreover, they had just been caught up in one the most momentous events in history, with the president suffering a massive head wound. At that point should they be expected to document the rest of the wounds and then lucidly share all the details for posterity to a gaggle of newsmen shouting at them?
In my initial column 10 years ago I wrote that what I saw on my visit to the Texas Book Depository would not rule out any conspiracy theory. But it did prove to me that if you thought Oswald did it alone, you would not be stupid. Three bullets fired, three bullet casings found on the floor near Oswald’s perch.
Now, about that grass and those leaves. The few that landed on my wooden patio have been raked. The ones on my lawn have been left there, to gradually get worn down over the winter and spring and ground into the earth. Next summer the lawn will be fine.
I am reminded of lawns by the recent announcements from the state Department of Environmental Protection and from the New Jersey Conservation Foundation regarding recent legislation that prohibits homeowners and commercial lawn care companies from applying fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorus to their lawns after the harshest part of the winter is over.
As the DEP argues, “when the ground is frozen, the possibility is greater for runoff from fertilizer to enter and impair the state’s surface water system.” Michele Byers of the Conservation Foundation notes that “the fertilizer law, said to be the toughest in the nation, was signed by Governor Christie in January, 2011, as part of a comprehensive plan to reverse the decline of water quality in Barnegat Bay. But the new regulations help every waterway in this state we’re in.”
The ongoing problem is the entire lawn concept. As Byers writes, “most lawns have heavily compacted soil, with few pores able to let in applied chemicals and water.” Some people argue that lawns are not much better than blacktop parking lots. In any case, Byers continues, “rainwater picks up herbicides, fungicides, and excessive nutrients from lawns, and then flows into storm sewers and streams, eventually ending up in rivers, lakes, and bays.”
I have railed against lawns on several occasions in this space. Four years ago I wrote about the wisdom — or folly — of raking leaves in the first place. I quoted Bruce Crawford, director of Rutgers Gardens, who explained that the lush green lawns of that botanical oasis just off Route 1 at Ryders Lane depend in part on the leaves. “We rake the bulk into loose piles and run over the piles (slowly I might add) with the mulching lawn mower. This grinds the leaves into smaller shreds and makes them ideal for mulching or composting. The leaves that are left on the lawn we simply run over with the mulching mower and allow them to filter down into the turf . . . The prolonged process of mincing leaves may be one of the reasons why — even after a prolonged drought — our grass is still green. There are other factors (wonderful topsoil), but this certainly contributes.”
I quoted a Michigan State study, described at a website called finegardening.com, which maintained that mowing leaves into the lawn (instead of raking them) could improve the lawn. “If you follow these simple guidelines, you will never rake another leaf and improve the quality of your soil,” said the writer, Terry Ettinger.
All that made me wonder what Princeton University is doing to make its vast network of lawns more environmentally palatable. Just a few weeks ago, driving down Washington Road on my daily commute, I was entertained by the symphony of leaf blowers, moving leaves from the lawn into the road, where — presumably — another machine would eventually scoop most of them up and transport them to some compost heap at a far corner of the campus.
I wondered what would happen if the university tried a crude experiment. Take one representative lawn and do not rake any leaves. Simply mow the lawn on the regular schedule and let the leaves be minced into the earth. If the lawn is still surviving the next spring compare it to other lawns. Repeat the process. See what the results are.
Four years ago when I wrote that “Leaves on Grass” column I put in a phone call and an E-mail to Shana Weber, the university’s “sustainability manager,” but never got a response. Four years later, according to the university’s website, Weber is still the honcho of sustainability. I am going to re-send that request now and will report any reply ASAP.
If I don’t get a reply, it may be that she is busy, with 500 acres to supervise, that’s a lot of sustainability. Or maybe she feels that leaves are a trivial element in the grand scheme of the university’s carbon footprint. Or, and I doubt anyone can 100 percent rule this out, there’s a conspiracy afoot. ’Nough said, for now.