The Cambrian

Mountain living grows on you, but so do pesky weeds

A riding mower, push mower and weed whacker are some of the tools you’ll need to keep up with the grasses in the Santa Lucia range.
A riding mower, push mower and weed whacker are some of the tools you’ll need to keep up with the grasses in the Santa Lucia range. Special to The Cambrian

In the Santa Lucia Mountains in Cambria’s backcountry, mowing the lawn takes on a whole new meaning. Few of us up here have real lawns, but we try to pretend we do by mowing the native grasses to make things look reasonably civilized and tidy, at least from a distance, and to keep Cal Fire from declaring us a menace to our neighbors and the community.

We live in a meadow described as Goat Camp on historic maps of the area. The meadow is surrounded by huge old-growth native trees and two creeks. In the middle of the meadow is our orchard. To keep up with the grasses and other native plants (translated: weeds) in the orchard and in the meadow at large, it takes a riding lawn mower, a walk-behind lawn mower and a weed whacker. Add a chain saw to the tool mix to deal with the trees and large limbs that inevitably fall down during the winter, and you have backcountry landscaping 101. Before we start the spring yard work, it truly is a jungle out there.

Back in Pennsylvania, where I grew up, my dad had a push mower and an edger to make the space between the lawn and the sidewalks look professionally done. I look at our situation here and have to laugh. An edger. We have no edges. If my dad were still alive, I’m not sure if he’d be appalled or think this was kind of neat.

Other than the fact that our “yard” is bigger than most suburban yards, the primary difference is that we aren’t trying to make this place look like something out of Better Homes and Gardens. Good thing. The gophers have ensured that we will never be able to fool ourselves into thinking we live in a normal neighborhood. The good thing is that we don’t have to worry about mowing once a week from spring through autumn as suburbanites do (except in Cambria, where people’s lawns aren’t allowed to grow). We just have to address the winter and early spring growth every couple of weeks until it stops raining. Obviously, we do have to water our orchard after the winter rains are finished, but weed whacking the orchard is easy peasy, compared to mowing the entire area, which is at least a two-day job. I wouldn’t want to be the one to have to remind my husband, John, about mowing all summer.

In addition to mowing our meadow and orchard, John has realized the past few years that he also needs to weed whack the Jeep road that goes through the backcountry, even farther into the mountains than where we actually live, if you can imagine such a thing.

Keeping this road clear and passable makes it possible for us to drive to other parts of our land and even makes walking easier than trying to wade through waist-high wild oats and other tall grasses. If he doesn’t clear the road, the old weeds eventually fall down and make a tangled mat that’s slippery and catches your shoes. I took a major header walking down a steep hill several years ago while trying to navigate through the fallen grasses.

For those of you with small Cambria yards, enjoy your flowers and shrubs this summer and be glad you don’t have to drag out the mower every week. If any of you still have expansive lawns, we feel your pain.

Marcia Rhoades’ column appears monthly and is special to The Cambrian. Email her at