Would You Dye a Lake Blue?

A friend once told me a strange story about an American summer camp. That camp had a lake. Just before the parents returned for their brats the camp managers done something very odd to that lake. They went down to the lake’s edge. They opened up some plastic drums. And they dyed the lake blue.

Blue. With blue dye. A lake.

Yeah.

If you’re like me then you’re probably going, “What? Are they insane? The poor fish! Those idiots!”

But…

Wait…

Don’t worry…

That summer camp was no anomaly. That was lake dye. Special purpose. Fish friendly, so they say. You can buy it by the drum load.

Why would anyone use this stuff?  Well, according to the purveyors of the finest in paint-for-lakes, lake dye is a must have because:

  • it controls algae and plants, by shading all photosynthetic life to aquamarine-tinged death;
  • it enhances fish safety, by allowing the fish to hide from predatory birds in murky water the color of Gatorade;
  • and, most importantly of all… beauty. If it aint glowing cerulean blue then it aint good enough for you.

It appears that enough people find these reasons sufficiently compelling to have supported an entire industry, with multiple competing brands, that’s been churning out the blue wonder for years.

Now, just in case you’re beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, this is reasonable behavior after all, let’s be clear about one thing. All this talk about “fish safety” and “algae control” is a blue-dyed herring. For limnological reasons we wont get into, trying to fix water quality issues with blue dye is like trying to grow a beard with face paint. Lake dye is about one thing and one thing only – The Look, the blue look.

“Hey, Jim, that’s amazing! How did you get your pond to look so blue?”

“Well, Bob, I filled it with ink.”

“Gosh Jim! Why didn’t I think of that? Can I have some?”

“Sure Bob! I’ll bring it over as soon as I finish spray painting the dog.”

Lake dye is nuts. Objectively. It’s expensive. It doesn’t fix the real problem (i.e the fact that small lowland ponds just aren’t blue… that’s nature folks). And… you are dying a lake blue!

So then… why do people care so much about The Look that they are willing to act like eccentric professors with an overabundance of bad ideas?

Good question.

Lake dye has friends. Fake has long been popular. The Chinese are said to paint entire quarried mountainsides green, so that passengers in passing aircraft don’t notice the ravaged landscape beneath them. Stores exist where you can buy yourself an entirely plastic garden, right from the astroturf to the petrochemical palm trees. I recently passed an entire hedge’s worth of this stuff outside a lawyers firm – I had thought something seemed a bit wrong with those bushes. And my own grandmother long kept a bowl of plastic apples on her kitchen table – an eternal mouthwatering disappointment.

So why be a person who merely looks like they have a bowl of fruit, without getting any of the satisfaction of actually being able to pick up one of those apples and eat it?

Why do we fake anything?

Maybe some people really do like the look of plastic fruit and blitzed-blue lakes. It’s a quick-cheap aesthetic booster-shot. But that summer camp never wasted their dye making life pretty for the kids.

Fake is impression management. Information warfare. Psychological espionage. So viscous is this struggle that some of us will go to any length in-order to win – including telling lies with a forty-four gallon drum full of blue – seeking natural perfection in chemical oblivion. A few clever words from the salesman about algae and fish and we can convince ourselves we are doing this for sensible reasons. But the truth is…

Society’s eyes are ever staring. We see all. We judge all. We are inside your head.

We decide what you must want, what you must have, what you must be. If you want our help, then don’t you dare tell us that you cannot afford to be… don’t have time to be… don’t know how to be… We expect perfection! We expect your polluted little mud pond to resemble the royal blue waters of alpine Davos. We expect the impossible.

So you give us the impossible. The unreal. The lie.

You fake it. You fake it to make our voice in your head shut up.

You drown us in blue dye.

 

~

Deeper Down the Rabbit-hole:

A few random lake dye suppliers as a taster:

(I’m not advertising by the way. In fact… never buy lake dye. Are you insane?!)

Advertisements

The True Meaning of Lawns

The weekend rolls around. A look out the window. Grass. Long grass. Didn’t I just mow that? Go to the garage. Check the oil. Fill up the tank. Yank, yank, yank on the cord till it starts. Time to mow the lawns. Suburban Sisyphus begins again.

Even now the air hums with lawnmowers. Yet I know from conversation that many of these people will in truth despise their lawn. And I know from walking the neighborhood that few people use their lawn as anything more than a spare car park, or an open air dog toilet. Yet they toil. They buy the petrol, fix the mower, weekly they battle the grass.

Why bother? It’s not like it’s the only option. We could have:

  • zen rock gardens,
  • concrete slabs,
  • fields of veggies,
  • piles of gravel,
  • sunflowers,
  • wildflowers,
  • permaculture food forests,
  • carpets of rosemary, mint, and thyme,
  • an elaborate series of interconnected goldfish ponds,
  • or we could have at least stuck a goat on it.

Instead we have lawns.

Why?

It wasn’t always this way. The original lawn was not lawn, but pasture – somewhere to graze your sheep. Purely functional. Then in the 18th Century the English landscape garden was born. Naturalness was the key to this style, and grass was front and center. If you want to know what these gardens look like, visit a golf course.

At this point the lawn was pure aristocratic extravagance: beautiful, expensive, and pointless.

Then in the 19th Century the lawnmower was invented. Lawns went mainstream. However, this was at some level still both a status symbol, as well as  a functional sporting thing: croquet, tennis, lawn bowls. The modern pointless lawn would have to await another invention.

Suburbia.

Now the aesthetic of the English landscape garden was applied to town planning.

Strangely, in these suburbs the lawn has come to play a much bigger role than pure aesthetics. If you want to discover that role for yourself, then stop mowing. Life could get very weird.

Passers-by will shake their heads, your neighbors will twitch with an unnatural desire to mow your lawns for you, and you might even get arrested. Lawns spark an alarming degree of passion. Fanatics will cover the slightest brown blemish with green paint. Heretics will defiantly let the yard go wild.

Lawns are a statement.

Lawns are a moral symbol.

In a community dominated by lawns, with unfenced front yards, we become one lawn indivisible. The state of your lawn becomes a statement of virtue. The unkempt is the un-neighborly, the unreliable, the possibly dealing drugs or dead. Tear up the lawn and you are tearing up the community, setting yourself apart, destroying the illusion that we all live in one big happy park. The lawn is the symbol of the egalitarian, affluent community.

That is the idealized philosophy of lawns. This moral pressure ensures that even those who hate lawns have them, and those who have lawns maintain them. So ingrained is the idea of lawns that we struggle to imagine suburbia without them.

Yet lawns might not last. In my own community, lawns have become an inversion of their origin. Lawns, in the open front yard style, are the garden of the poor. The rich, in contrast, can be identified by the height of their walls and smallness of their lawn. The middle-classes, for the most part, are stuck between the two extremes, unsure which way to go. Considering how we got lawns, they will likely choose walls. It almost makes one feel sad for lawns.

Deeper Down the Rabbit hole:

If you’re looking for someone to blame for inventing lawns, try  Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Here.

“Turf Wars” Evan Ratliff. Here. An interesting read on the fight over lawns.

The Lawn Institute – making the case for lawns since the 1950s. Note how community is one of the first arguments they turn to. Here.

It’s not just lawns. See “Suburban Ideals on England’s Interwar Council Estates” for an example of how suburban gardening in general has always been a minefield. Here