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America's obsession with that green patch in the yard

An environmental historian ponders the cultural significance of the lawn in suburban America.

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It is that time of year when a quiet conspiracy sweeps the nation. It will not cause journalists to call for the President's impeachment and it probably won't influence the national debt. On the plus side, it may actually help to decrease the nation's obesity problem.

But it is a conspiracy all the same, one that saps the time and resources of millions of Americans. I speak, of course, of the summer months - complete with a lovely balance of moisture and heat - that (in many areas of the US) create a period of lush growth for all that is natural. Bah!

Lest I sound like the Grinch of the cul-de-sac, let me explain that I love to watch the emergence of the buds, leaves, and blooms as well as the return of migratory birds; my disdain is reserved only for swiftly growing grass. Grass that we homeowners must maintain appropriately or face the wrath of neighbors, relatives, community boards, or spouses.

Of America's 58 million lawn owners, I am not the only Grinch. But I fear our numbers are dwarfed by those of many lawn obsessives. "As bizarre as the lawn fanatics may seem," writes historian Ted Steinberg, "their behavior is just a slight exaggeration of what has come to be seen as normal."

Steinberg finds in each of our lawns (and his own), a view into the soul of something particularly American. His careful study of this pseudo-nature that covers 40 million acres of the United States makes American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn an insightful read for suburbanites who face the start of a season of mowing. Additionally, though, Steinberg's sense of humor makes "American Green" an enjoyable read even for apartment dwellers and lawn-o-phobes. His insight turns this book into a fascinating window on some of the deeper meanings of this most peculiar portion of Americans' ongoing relationship with nature.

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