The only good thing about not having a lawn is that there is no grass to provide cover for snakes. The two red-tailed hawks I recently saw fighting high above the ground over a snake dangling from one's beak no doubt appreciated the ease with which they spotted their victim.
Certainly Ray and I have tried to establish a lawn. Last year -- our first in the new home we built in the country -- we planted 600 pounds of grass seed just before the Monsoon Season hit our area. We have wonderful grass at the base of the hill where all the seed washed and we have a nice stand of dirt -- dotted with tiny plugs of zoysia grass -- around the periphery of the house. Ray and I believe that we have the only yard in Kansas that looks like Sen. Joe Biden's head.
Just getting the zoysia here was no easy task. We moved almost an acre of it from our former yard and it was backbreaking work. My job was to cut the sod into 2-foot sections with an ax after the landscapers loosened it from the soil with a sodcutter. Ray and the boys spent days loading and transporting dozens of pickup loads to our building site. (When Ray traded off his old pickup several months later, the salesman observed, "Hey, you've got grass growing in the back of your truck!") Just our luck to be able to grow grass in the metal bed of a pickup but not in soil.
Trying to establish a lawn also damaged our house when Ray hit the side of it with a tractor and sheared off one of the outside water faucets. He was hugely embarrassed because he virtually grew up on the seat of a tractor and was doing much of the field work at his parents' farm even before he reached his teens. But he had never operated a tractor on a slope with a fully loaded box-blade. "I had the choice of turning the tractor over backwards or hitting the house," he sheepishly explained to me. One thing about Ray, even his panic decisions are good ones.
We have learned to be creative in simulating a lawn. We've discovered that weeds -- when cut short and viewed from a distance -- can pass for grass. And, because we live in the country, we leave untouched small areas of wildflowers and native prairie grasses, the latter of which have the added advantage of turning red in winter.
Still, we are getting ready to plant more grass seed in the hope of establishing a lush lawn that Ray can mow without sending up clouds of dust reminiscent of Western Kansas during the drought-stricken "Dirty Thirties." I'm confident that we will soon have grass thick and tall enough to provide our snakes with protection from hawks.
Unfortunately, they can't be guaranteed protection from my man on a riding lawn mower. According to Ray, the only good snake is the sectional one that is inside the mower bag. That is why -- once we have a lawn -- I don't expect to see neat straight lawn mower paths. Our grass will be mowed as it always has been: free-form!
And that is also why our youngest son, once the proud owner of a 14-foot Burmese python, will cringe when he surveys the erratic path of our lawn mower. He will know it means his dad has bagged yet another snake in the grass.