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Keeping Track - Lawn mowers: our most pampered and successful pets

If I wanted a carpet outside my house, I would put down a carpet instead of a lawn. I've always had trouble with the concept of exceedingly short grass and wonder what the purpose is. There are plenty of plants that stay short on their own, are prettier and less allergenic than grass, require no mowing, and in some cases even produce perfectly good food. Wild strawberries, for example, are aggressive, short, and produce absolute delicious food. Creeping Charlie is considered a weed, but is anything but. It has all the advantages of grass with none of the disadvantages. But instead of these practical solutions to having carpets outside of our homes, we grow lawns, and my column this month is a nod to the most successful domestic species in the world: the lawn mower.

As a society, we're too good to our lawn mowers

Summer is once again upon us. I can tell, not because of the date, nor the sweet sound of chirping birds, nor even the flowers in bloom. Summer's arrival is heralded by the ubiquitous sound of grazing lawn mowers.

The noisiest and least social animal humans have domesticated, the lawn mower generates some of the world's most toxic flatulence while producing no useful byproducts.

Unlike many of its grazing ancestors, this survivor of the modern urban jungle has evolved to chew grass, and return it from whence it came.

It produces only foul smelling gases, yet it is one of the most popular pets known to humanity. Its ancestors on our lawns, the goat and the cow, produced milk used for many aspects of cooking and baking, as well as large quantities of fresh, healthy meat, but were seen as unsightly and messy because of the organic fertilizer they produced. In some areas, another popular grazing animal, the sheep, has been replaced by lawn mowers as growing wool for clothing has gone out of style.

Some older, endangered breeds of lawn mower chew up the lawn and spit it out, allowing the grass to decompose back into the soil and strengthen the lawns, but most modern species of lawn mower hold their meals in large stomachs that have to be emptied by their human masters when they get full.

Many people are so embarrassed by the digested remains of their lawn mower's meals that they hurriedly stoop and scoop the partially eaten grass, quickly hiding it in yard waste bags to be fed to the mower's distant cousin, the garbage truck.

As lawn mowers are known to have a voracious appetite, many of their masters feel compelled to chemically induce their lawns to produce more and, particularly in droughts, divert limited potable water to their lawns lest their lawn mowers become malnourished. Watering lawns is not always legal but many lawn mower owners do it at night, or have their children play with the sprinkler system.

While some citizens let their lawns languish in this dry weather, many people believe that this results in inhumane treatment of lawn mowers which must be fed at least once every two weeks to stay properly fit.

Some rare species of lawn mower are so difficult to feed, municipal governments set up entire parks just to provide enough for them to eat.

These heavy but nimble lawn mowers waste little time enjoying their meals, and spend much of the year trying to eat as much of each city's grass supply as its minders will allow, the better to prepare for their long winter hibernation.

The very best lawns are set aside for the elite. Their life of privilege is funded by generous people who care deeply about the health of these grazers; pampered fairways are subject to continual inspection by club-carrying foursomes, assuring the quality of the grass. On these large, exclusive properties, delicacies, known as greens, are cultivated to the finest tastes of the most demanding lawnmowers.

Lawn mowers are not a social species. They are solitary creatures, rarely ever seen in packs. This far north, they have evolved to hibernate for the winter, although in warmer climates they must be fed year-round.

Lawn mowers reproduce asexually, frequently speciating, and not inheriting evolutionary advances found among their peers.

They are known to react very aggressively to being petted, particularly on their underbellies. However, as lawn mowers are one of our most sacred species, it is very rare for them to be put down for such an outburst. Most lawn mowers are vegetarians, but they have been known to eat a wide variety of small amphibious and land animals that seek shelter in lawns.

Most cities have laws that effectively set minimum standards for the number of lawn mowers that must exist within its limits. If a lawn mower has not had access to a particular lawn in so long that the lawn's height exceeds eight inches, a landowner can be severely penalized for lack of compassion for their lawn mower. As a result, population control for lawn mowers is very difficult and in many areas their numbers have grown to exceed both dogs and cats.

Some people are beginning to see this prolific species as a pest.

With no natural predators, their numbers are increasing and some desperate groups are proposing reintroducing endangered residential grazers like goats.

Prolific consumers of grass and weeds, they could displace lawn mowers in the same habitat. These grazers would reproduce naturally and provide humans with an indirect means of eating their own lawns; feed a goat for the summer, and it will help feed your family for the winter.

The future of the lawn mower is looking very bright. As its world population continues to rise and farmland is replaced with lawn mower grazing fields freshly established in each new urban development, and as grasslands continue to expand northward as lawn mower flatulence works its way through the atmosphere, its food supply and habitat is growing by leaps and bounds.

Indeed, lawn mowers may be one of few species in the world to benefit and thrive from climate change.

Posted at 13:26 on June 10, 2010

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