Lawn, beach or porch? All play roles in our lives

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 25, 2014

SALISBURY — The front porch, the lawn and the beach are part of our cultural landscape, consuming a lot of time, energy and money. As cultural icons, they are synonymous with status and good citizenship (lawn), well-being and pleasure (beach), or civil society (porch).
In “The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession,” Virginia Scott Jenkins asks why Americans have front lawns while people in other countries have front gardens or interior courtyard gardens. She explores what gardens tell us about American culture and how residential landscape has evolved.
Apparently, before the Civil War, few Americans had lawns. Up to the 1850s, houses in American towns were built close to the street with perhaps a small fenced front garden. Farmhouses were surrounded by packed dirt, pastures or gardens.
When did our notion of residential landscape change and why? After the Civil War, the single-family house, surrounded by grass, developed and spread throughout the nation.
According to Jenkins, this change was due partially to suburban movements: expansion of transit lines, models of public parks, adoption of the automobile by the middle-class, the popularity of golf, low-cost mortgages and funding for highways.
Jenkins adds that the real impetus to the lawn craze was dependent on our ability to grow lawn grasses and on our aesthetic desire to have a lawn, affordability of tools and grasses, plus the adoption by the middle-class of what had been a luxury of the wealthy.
What is the future of the lawn? Jenkins examines present ecological problems and possible alternatives in the 21st century. And what is the amount of lawn in the United States? According to Dean Bill Chameides of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, we have more than 40 million acres of lawns.
“The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth,” by Lena Lencek and Gideon Bosker, looks back to antiquity, when the beach was anything but paradisiacal. The shore was the limit of the known, and the sea was “the mother of all mysteries.” The English word “shore” was derived from the Old English “scieran,” meaning to cut or shear; the shore was “shorn off” by a sea that could rise up and wreak havoc against ships and coastal inhabitants.
In the Middle Ages, Europeans avoided the ocean partially because of the belief that water was connected to plagues. By the 17th century, the beach’s medicinal attractions were rediscovered, and it became a center for upper class social pursuits.
Then with rail travel and the passage of legal holidays, a trip to the coast was available to all classes of people. We now create artificial beaches, and sometimes find that the real thing has become a health hazard, tainted with pollution. Still, the beach represents for most of us a site of regeneration, relaxation and recreation.
For some relaxation and good conversation, your destination may be the front porch. “Out on the Porch: An Evocation in Words and Pictures” is introduced by Reynolds Price, who tells us about a particular porch in Warren County, describing an ordinary day in 1942 when he was 9.
His account gives us “some sense of the role and meaning of a porch in the life of a middle-class Southern family of no more than average complexity, rage or need.” The book continues with photographs of porches populated by people and furniture along with excerpts from the works of Southern writers.

Summer reading — Fizz, Boom, Read! The library and the Friends of RPL invite children to celebrate science and reading this summer with Fizz, Boom, Read. Registration is underway at all library locations for children ages 12 months to rising fifth- graders. Throughout the summer, children earn prizes by reading. Using their lab journal, children can begin tracking their reading hours June 16 and continue through Aug. 15. Those completing their journal can pick out a book to keep, and can enter a raffle for prizes.
The library will also have a literacy workshop for parents of children up to age 5 on Monday, June 30, at 6:30 p.m. The workshop is free but registration is required and space is limited. You can register at any library branch. Check with your library for special events or activities throughout the summer.
Teen summer reading: Teens may participate in Spark a Reaction where they will explore science through programs and reading. Registration is underway at all library locations for rising sixth- to 12th-graders. Teens can begin tracking reading hours June 16. Each week, events will focus on science concepts, experiments and crafts.
Every teen who registers receives a booklet for keeping track of the library dollars they earn. Those dollars will be used to enter raffles for prizes provided by the Friends of RPL and other local sponsors. Winners will be announced at the end of the summer Blow Out Blast at South Rowan Regional on July 31, 3:30–5 p.m.
Adult summer reading: Adults can join the library for a summer of programs and great reads with “Literary Elements.” Reading hours ay be tracked June 11-Aug. 11. Prize drawings will be held with grand prizes awarded at the end of summer celebration. Registration is open. Adult 18 and older may participate. For more information and registration, go to
Book Bites Club: South (only), Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., “Still Life,” by Louise Penny. Book discussion groups for adults and children meet the last Tuesday of each month. The group is open to the public and anyone is free to join at any time. There is a discussion of the book, as well as light refreshments at each meeting. For more information, please call 704-216-8229.
Library closings: May 26, closed for Memorial Day.
Displays for May: headquarters, Older Americans month by Jo Kearns; South, student art by South Rowan High School art class; East, “Winnie the Pooh,” by Kim Davis.
Literacy: Call the Rowan County Literacy Council at 704-216-8266 for more information on teaching or receiving literacy tutoring for English speakers or for those for whom English is a second language.