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FIELD NOTES: Working on deadline

I love a good documentary, especially one that details a scientist or researcher attempting to prove a weird or controversial theory. In 1972, I convinced my father, who was somewhat less of a documentary enthusiast, to take me to see “The Voyage of the Ra” at the theater in Port  Clinton. The film followed the adventures of Thor Heyerdahl, who believed that ancient Egyptian traders had crossed the Atlantic Ocean in papyrus reed boats. He succeeded in sailing such a craft from Morocco to Barbados on his second attempt, proving that such trade was feasible. The excitement in the film was generated mainly by the genuine possibility that the boats, especially the first iteration, would break apart and sink on the open ocean. Not all quests are inherently as dramatic, however, and one of the annoyances of the genre is the application of an arbitrary deadline to build suspense.

“Dr. Johnson may be only inches away from unearthing a Sumerian tomb that, if he is correct, will rewrite the history of civilization. But his flight is scheduled to leave Bagdad tomorrow morning. Will he make the discovery in time?”  

One never knows for sure how they will react in a given situation, but I’d like to believe that if I  am on the verge of a discovery that could change humanity, I’d probably pay the airline change fees and keep digging.  

It’s a little like that with fall yard work. There is about a three-week window in September during which the annual ritual of dethatching, aerating, overseeding, and fertilizing must take place. Cool-weather grasses like the tall fescue that makes up my lawn will not germinate at temperatures much above 80 degrees, so overseeding before mid-month here in the Carolinas is a waste of time and effort. Conversely, new grass needs four to six weeks of root growth before the leaves fall so that raking, blowing, and bagging do not rip it all up. 

In a typical year, I would start prepping my lawn the week after Labor Day to put the seed down by the 20th. But due to my travels this September, I had to condense the work that I would generally have completed over three weeks down to three days. That’s a tall task, and I would probably have been willing to cheat by a few days if the weather had cooperated. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it), this week’s weather turned cool and rainy after Monday, so three days was all I had. 

Keeping my lawn looking good is important to me for several reasons, not the least of which being I’m the author of a book that is nominally about lawn care. While “Ben and the Art of Lawnmower Maintenance” has more to do with my relationship with my father than with Toros or tall fescue, there is an entire chapter on fall lawn maintenance, and it’s always a good idea to practice what you preach. 

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