Zen Lawn

Driving up the foothills to my mother's house in Salt Lake City, you pass a nearly unbroken carpet of lawn, with the thickened, careful edges at the sidewalks that only result from successive generations of earnest teenage entrepreneurs. A couple of segments may be slightly paler than others, whether from mild chintziness, drought guilt, or extended vacation, but the pride everyone takes in their expensive land and expansive valley views is apparent.

Right before the turn, though, is an anomaly. A stunning--but not harsh, not at all--break in the manicured monotony. Technically, it's in front of a house, so it's a yard, but in place of the grass, there's a riot of wildflowers and waist-high plants. A couple of old fir trees tower over the field, and yes, there's a house, a driveway, a garage, all well-kept. There's a feeling of wildness, randomness--and beauty, sure, amazing beauty, but dubiously uncontrollable--it looks, well, natural, which is unsettling.

And understandably so. Lawns--especially front lawns--are the verdant metric for judging your suburban neighbor's wealth, values, community spirit, their character, their worth. And how are you supposed do to that if they don't even have one?

Clearly, I had to ask my mom. Turns out the elderly couple had lived in that house for years. They were still listed as members of the Church (i.e., the one on the corner, to which well over half the neighborhood belongs), but they hadn't been in years.

"Someone said she'd become a Zen Buddhist, or was studying Zen or something. They're both in their eighties. She would be out there, working in that yard all the time," my mom said. "Pulling out trees, digging out roots, rocks, I mean she worked to clear that soil.

"She was out there almost every day for more than two years. This is the first year it's finally looked like that."

"Wow," I said.

"Then in April, she died."

Laying up treasures on earth vs. treasures in heaven, etc. The Mormon in me recognized the sad lesson to be learned. But to a Buddhist, I thought, it'd be just fine.

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: September 5, 2004.

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