Overgrown

August is a time for tangled branches and rebellion

Mike Paulus, design by Serena Wagner

Maybe it’s because we never had sidewalks. Or a curb or a gutter. Everyone’s lawns just rolled right up the blacktop, no fancy concrete to separate the two.

Our street wasn’t brand new, but it had a bunch of new houses, built alongside the older ones from the Sixties. The Fifties? Maybe the Seventies. There was a mix.

Growing up, I never really considered the length of our grass. I was too busy. I mean, Skeletor wasn’t going to attack He-Man’s fortress in the retaining wall out front without me. My sister’s Barbie Dolls weren’t going to chuck themselves off the deck, were they?

I had a lot on my plate, is what I’m saying.

As far as I was aware of things, my dad kept the shrubbery in check and the lawn well-mowed. Eventually I was made to mow the lawn myself, but even then I wasn’t paying much attention to what I was doing. Or why. Who cared how long things grew?

But what if we’d had sidewalks? I may have grown up tuned in to the relationship between foliage and walkways. I may have better understood the methods of strict borders and delineation employed by my residential neighbors. I may have better appreciated a good bit of lawnery.

We’re so busy moaning about the humidity, locking the windows, and revving up the air conditioning while just outside, inch by inch, these plants are taking over. On some nights, I swear you can hear them declare victory.

If I’d grown up with sidewalks, perhaps I’d have noticed what happens each summer when August comes creeping into our city to vandalize our orderly cement.

I see it now, all these years later. Beneath the moon, emerging from the midnight humidity, August slinks in from the countryside. A dark carnival. A strange magician whispering to our lawns and flowerbeds. It coos to our vegetable gardens and the weeds out in the parking lot.

“Grow,” mumbles August. “Grow weird.”

And so, as the tiger lilies shrivel away, scruffy plant limbs burst over the edging to unfurl atop the lawn. Peculiar tufts of grass appear along the sidewalk, reddish spines stabbing at your ankles. Pale green stalks shoulder through the concrete panels with their freaky pods perched on top. Tall and proud as anything.

Way up high, rogue tendrils squirm across the power lines.

It’s a laid back rebellion. We’re so busy moaning about the humidity, locking the windows, and revving up the air conditioning while just outside, inch by inch, these plants are taking over. On some nights, I swear you can hear them declare victory.

It took a long time for me to see all this. But one summer, as I frowned at our bushy, disheveled tomato plants, my wife said, “I like this time of year.”

She tells me, “I like the wild beauty of it. Tangly. Weathered blooms and tattered leaves and long vine-y grasses. Like nature is winning.”

And suddenly something took root. Maybe all this creepy growth isn’t something to struggle against. Maybe this is how August smiles at us, as if to say, “Sit down for a second. Look at how this goofy grass is spilling onto your driveway like a paint brush crammed into the canvas. Down here by your feet. This is pretty, too.”

We just love putting plants in their place. And we love yanking the weird ones from our comfort zone, roots at all. We want them cleared from our path, and we’d like the nice ones to be spaced along the walk at regular intervals, thank you very much.

But August isn’t a fan of linear movement. It designs mysterious plans of attack, jumbled and curious and adaptive to our asphalt world. Plants don’t need sidewalks to get moving. It's like they know exactly what they’re doing. Like they don’t even need us.

Like nature is winning.

Press and hold the up/down arrows to scroll.