Stressed out about germination and enamored of bug ads

By Jayson Jacoby September 10, 2010 09:51 am

For a month now I’ve been tending a patch of new grass, and the stress of this endeavor, on which I embarked with great optimism, has begun to wear on me in a considerable way.

I ought to have known it would.

I figured out quite some years ago that my personality is ill-suited to the peculiar pressures of cultivation.

I lack the necessary patience, for one thing.

The process of horticultural germination, even at its speediest, seems to me painfully sluggish.

I just can’t go in for watching a patch of dirt, pining for the appearance of the first sprig of green.

I need instant gratification.

My current project is a path that runs between our backyard patio and the toolshed.

I built this path more than a decade ago. It’s maybe 30 feet long, with a comely curve along the way.

Initially the path’s surface was a mixture of pea gravel and decorative white stone. Last year I added a dozen or so round brick pavers, to keep a little girl from bruising her bare feet on the gravel.

But this summer Lisa decided grass, being vastly softer, was the better choice.

She spent many hours shoveling gravel and sifting out the dirt by means of a pair of metal screens. As is typical, she graciously failed to mention that I contributed not the least bit of effort to this task.

Until the first day of August, when I prised out the remaining pavers and smoothed the base of the path.

Then I put the pavers back, spaced out along the whole of the path, hauled in a dozen or so wheelbarrow loads of dirt and tamped it around the pavers to level the surface with the rest of the lawn.

This was sweaty work, but also gratifying.

After a couple hours I could sip a cold soda and look, with satisfaction, at the tangible evidence of my accomplishments.

Unfortunately it was also my last tangible reward for at least the next week.

And few weeks seem as obstinate, in the passage of their minutes and hours, as the week in which you are nurturing grass seed.

It’s a period fraught with perils, and all the worrying vexes me.

Grass seed seems as helpless as a orphaned kitten, just lying there mixed with dirt and mulch, unable to defend itself against the ravages of famished robins and the crushing hooves of deer.

But the greatest fear for a man who’s guarding grass seed — the one that can interrupt his sleep — has to do with water.

The seed package says sprinkling twice a day is sufficient. Yet there came a torrid August afternoon, and the path took on the gritty look of desert sand by mid-morning, and the blithe confidence of the seed company rang hollow.

And so I sprayed a fine mist over the desiccated soil. But alleviating one concern allowed another to fester: Was I, in my earnest effort to spare my seed from dehydration, simultaneously drowning it?

I couldn’t be sure, and the uncertainty nagged constantly, much in the way that a song can lodge itself in your subconscious and resist all attempts to purge it.

(I defy you, to name one outstanding example, to banish “Dancing Queen” in less than two hours once its crystalline harmonies have insinuated themselves.)

The seed sack says germination is likely within six days. Yet at the end of the fifth, when I had yet to see a single slender stem, I became convinced that I had somehow botched the job and rendered sterile supposedly fecund seed.

I resorted to the ridiculous technique of hunkering on my knees, figuring I would, in that position, be better able to detect that first fine green haze that signals success.

The obvious fallacy in this whole exercise, of course, is that growing grass from seed requires no more talent than is needed to toast a slice of bread.

Except it didn’t seem obvious me to until, on the seventh day, I spied the first fragile blade.

The next morning there were, it seemed, hundreds.

In the weeks since, the grass has proliferated in a pleasing profusion. The path resembles the pastoral scene I envisioned back on the first of August while I was methodically spreading dirt between the pavers.

Yet still I worry.

According to all the information I’ve consulted, the grass is past ready for its first mowing.

But I can’t do it.

Roll over that frail carpet, hacking away with a sharpened steel blade?

I don’t think so.

Of course what if, by not mowing, I’m neglecting root development. . . .


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When I was attending the University of Oregon there was, or so it seemed to me, a distinct but unofficial line of demarcation separating the news-editorial majors, of which I was one, from my classmates whose emphasis was advertising.

The gist of this notion was that the news people were dedicated to the pursuit of truth, and the ad majors to the pursuit of cash.

I wasn’t much convinced by the validity of this contention then, and I remain skeptical of it now.

But motivations aside, I respect the sheer creativity that marks the best of the advertiser’s art.

The best example I’ve seen in many years is a series of TV spots for Orkin, the pest-killing outfit. The Richards Group, an ad agency in Dallas, produced the bits.

In each commercial a typical household insect (a carpenter ant, for instance) shows up at a home and tries to trick the owner into an invitation inside.

The insects, I should point out, are not life-size but rather human-size.

The basic concept itself is funny — who wouldn’t laugh at the notion of a cockroach posing as a pizza delivery driver?

But the true brilliance of the Orkin ads lies with their details.

In a commercial featuring ants, for instance, one ant tells the homeowner that he’s delivering a couch while, in the background, a second ant is holding the piece of furniture aloft.

As we all learned in elementary school, the ant is the Hercules of the insects.

I have a great admiration — bordering on outright jealousy, frankly — for people who can conceive of such scenes.

You can make a tidy salary churning out work of that quality. Except you can’t do it only for the money, if you see what I mean.

The Beatles, to use an extreme example, earned hundreds of millions of dollars with their music.

But no promise of compensation, however great the riches, can by itself produce, say,  “A Day in the Life.”

That takes a couple of geniuses like Lennon and McCartney.

And I’d wager that the muse they followed never said a word about dollars.

Or, rather, pounds.


Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.