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Life as performance art

Life as performance art

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By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel

Now spring is officially here — recent lake-effect weather notwithstanding — few things are as enjoyable as getting outside.

I like to take pre-dawn walks to hear the birds when they are waking up. We don’t get to enjoy that as much in winter, unless we’re entranced by the non-dulcet tones of sparrows with an occasional cardinal’s “cheer.”

Yesterday, while I was working in my office, I was distracted by cedar waxwings searching the bushes for berries. Sometimes, when the conditions are right and the berries have fermented, I witness inebriated birds who can’t manage the nuances of full flight. I also see animals that have come out after hibernating.

There are smells of spring too, one of which spikes my anxiety meter. Last week I noticed the distinct cologne of a skunk that was either out for a morning stroll  or doing the walk of shame after vying with raccoons and opossums for the garbage bin’s buffet.

I’m waiting for the real smell of spring, and I don’t mean being caught driving 10 mph on a country road behind a fully-laden honey wagon.  Nor its pale imitation of organic lawn fertilizer imported from the Wisconsin city from which it gets its name.

What I want is the smell of a freshly-manicured lawn.  Outside of the first minutes after a summer rainstorm, nothing is more wonderful than that

It’s a bit early, but in preparation the scent we enjoy is of Green Leaf Volatiles (GLV). When a mower blade connects with a blade of grass, it releases that chemical straight to the cut, sealing the plant to prevent bacterial damage and to promote new growth. That’s why grass grows so fast after we’ve just mowed it.

GLV is a magnificent cocktail of eight oxygenated hydrocarbons which, I am sure, some organic chemist has charted out. Too bad Coco Chanel never figured out how to convert that smell into aftershave, perhaps eau d’ lawn or Chanel No. 6.   Another great thing about GLV is if insects start munching on a grass blade or plant, they start to smell like the chemical, making them more tasty to other predators.

So why, when we drive past cattle or sheep grazing grass, don’t we get the same smell?

First, when we cut a lawn we persuade the grass to release a lot of GLV in a short time. Second, all that chemical gets converted inside the grass-nibbling animal, more or less taking us back to the slow-moving honey wagon.

Just as we’re ready to inhale the first scent of our freshly-cut lawn, there will be one rotten apple to spoil our pleasure. Some researcher has suggested GLV is a precursor that helps form ozone that creates smog.

You may want to use that as an excuse when the weather is hot to get out of spending time with your mower. It probably will not work in the eyes of your partner, and certainly not more than once, but you can give it a go.

As for me, I’m going to enjoy the smell of a fresh-cut lawn. I’d enjoy it more if you volunteer to do my mowing.