When the Grass Withers

Daniel Kishi: Landscaping is a reminder that we are limited, dependent on someone Greater, and subject to factors outside our control.

With my shirt drenched in sweat and my jeans covered in grass I clocked out after yet another eight-hour day in Northern Virginia’s heat and humidity. Here I was again.

For the past two summers, while many of my classmates were interning in the nation’s capital, I stayed on campus and worked for my college’s grounds crew. I took the job after being rejected by all of the internships to which I applied, but I have many reasons to be grateful. Although I too wanted to intern in Washington, the backbreaking summer job reminded me that I, like the landscape to which I tended, am dependent on something outside of myself.

Our crew of five ensured that the grass, flowers, bushes, and trees were well cared for and properly maintained. Poison ivy, sunburn, the constant threat of Lyme disease, and the inevitable temper flares that arise from a crew working under the scorching sun were but a few obstacles encountered over the duration of the summer. Nevertheless, the beauty of campus as a reflection of our labor elicited an unforgettable sense of pride. Sore feet and a stiff lower back were physical reminders that we earned every penny of our modest wage.

Our small campus is situated on a slight decline, allowing rainwater to collect in a small man-made reservoir affectionately nicknamed Lake Bob. Although the algae-ridden body of water holds a prominent place in campus tradition and folklore, Lake Bob’s primary function is to supply water for the campus irrigation system. The health of our campus lawns are thus dependent on two factors: the amount of rainwater campus receives and Lake Bob’s ability to supply nourishment during extended dry spells.

As the calendar turns to July and August, the temperature flirts with triple digits. The extreme heat is often accompanied with meager rainfall, the combination of which makes us dependent on Lake Bob’s reinforcements. When activated, the irrigation system pumps 32,000 gallons of water throughout campus each night. Although this proves a reliable remedy for a couple of weeks, Lake Bob’s water level quickly plummets during prolonged periods of limited rainfall. When the reservoir is depleted and the clouds remain dry, we are unable to provide the nourishment our grass so desperately needs. Even the morning dew—which in the early summer provides additional hours of moisture—is ineffective, evaporating within minutes of the day’s first light.

No amount of willpower or rain dancing can prevent the inevitable: the grass that we so passionately care for and tend to slowly transitions to unsightly shades of brown. In our anger, we curse the clouds.

Our dying grass chafes against our modern sensibilities. As modern men, we have been conditioned to believe that the world is a machine programmed to accommodate our will. The use of an irrigation system on our campus is our attempt to manipulate the natural world to our scrupulous aesthetic standards. Though we try to maintain the health of our lawn with the aid of technological innovations, we prove ourselves defenseless to prolonged periods of heat and insufficient precipitation. The beauty of our campus, an immense point of pride among the crew, slowly fades—and through it we are humbled. For it is a reminder that we are limited, dependent on someone Greater, and subject to factors outside our control. Our modern sensibilities be damned.


Daniel Kishi is a fourth year undergraduate at Patrick Henry College where he mows lawns, weeds flower beds, and shovels snow. He also studies journalism and the classical liberal arts. He lives in Leesburg, Va. with his wife.

Image: Moisson au Bord de la Mer, by Emile Bernard (1891). Via Wikimedia.

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