Dave Barry

Dave Barry: A brush with gardening

This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, July 30, 1989

It will probably come as no surprise to you that I got the idea of painting my lawn from an agency of the federal government.

When I say "painting my lawn, " I don't mean my whole lawn. I just mean this one circular spot that suddenly, mysteriously turned brown, as though it had been visited by a small UFO or a large dog. I ignored the spot at first, but it started to grow, and I realized that it was similar to international communism: If you let it get a toehold in, say, Nicaragua, it will start to spread to the other strategic nations down there such as El Labrador and Costa "Ricky" Ricardo, and the next thing you know your entire lawn is brown.

So I was wondering what to do, when fortunately I received a letter from an alert reader named Dick Howard, who enclosed a news article from The Roanoke (Va.) Times and World News about some National Forest Service rangers who painted a group of federal rocks to make them look more natural. I am not making this up. It happened in the Jefferson National Forest, where the Forest Service had built a mountainside road that was designed, according to the article, "to blend in with the environment." It had a darkish color scheme, because, as you campers know, the environment consists primarily of dirt.

Unfortunately, there was an unscheduled flood, which exposed some large tacky white quartz rocks that frankly did NOT fit in with the natural road design. You can imagine how this offended the fashion sensibilities of the Forest Service personnel, who decided to do exactly what you would do if you were in charge of a national forest and had accidentally consumed a massive overdose of prescription medication: paint the rocks. They did a few tests to select just the color they wanted, then they spent two days spraying paint on the rocks, and before you could say "massive federal budget deficit, " the hillside looked just the way God would have created it if He had received the benefits of Forest Service training.

As a professional journalist, I have always been fascinated by people who appear to have even more spare time than I do, so I called up one of the men involved in the rock-painting, District Ranger Bob Boardwine, who turned out to be a friendly individual. He told me that the rangers had taken a fair amount of ribbing over the rock-painting, but as far as he was concerned the project had come out real nice. I told him I was thinking about painting the brown spot on my lawn, and he gave me some fashion tips. "Make sure you use a dark green, " he said. "When we painted the rocks, we went into it thinking in terms of a moss green and a light brown, but they weren't dark enough."

Thus advised, I asked my 8-year-old son if he wanted to help me paint the lawn, but he and his friend Erik were deeply involved in an urgent Nintendo game that is not expected to be completed during my lifetime. Fortunately Erik's 6-year-old brother, Tyson, was able to make some room in his schedule, so we got my son's watercolor set and went out to paint the brown spot. We were working on a blade-by-blade basis, and after a while we got tired of dark green, so at Tyson's suggestion we switched over to purple, then red, then orange, and when we were done we had converted what had been a dull and unattractive area of the lawn into an area that looked as though somebody had just thrown up several pounds of semi-digested jelly beans. Tyson and I were standing there admiring our work when -- this really happened -- up drove a pizza-delivery man, apparently sent by the God of Comedy Setup Lines.

"Looks like rain!" he said.

"Yes, " I said, "and wouldn't you know it, I just painted my darned lawn!"

I added a friendly "Ha ha!" to reassure him I was a normal person unlikely to suddenly chop him into fragments with a machete, but he was already accelerating down the street. Nevertheless the lawn-painting was a critical success, and it got me thinking about other ways I might be able to improve nature around our house, especially the yard crabs. Since we live in South Florida, geologically, a giant swamp with shopping centers, we have these crabs who live in holes in our yard, and I do not care for them. Being from the North, I prefer yard critters that are furry and cute, whereas crabs look like body parasites magnified 1,000 times. During mating season, they become outright hostile. I'll go out in my yard, and there, blocking my path, will be a crab, adopting a karate stance and waving his pincers menacingly to prevent me from mating with his woman.

"I don't want to mate with your woman, " I tell him. "Your woman is a crab, for God's sake." But this only makes him angrier, because I think he knows, deep inside his slimy little heart that I'm telling the truth.

So anyway, my idea is that the crabs should wear costumes. I'm thinking specifically chipmunk costumes. I could look out the window and watch them scuttling around the lawn in their furry finery, and it would be just like being back up North on a brisk fall day following a nuclear accident that had caused all the chipmunks to develop extra legs and walk sideways. My only question is where I'd get chipmunk costumes for crabs, but I'm sure the federal government can help me out. Assuming it's not too busy touching up federal rocks.

(c) 1989, Dave Barry

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