Googling my ghastly backyard


Published Jun 8, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

I was lamenting the pathetic state of my backyard the other day, hyperbolically surmising that you could probably see the dead lawn, patches of dirt and dandelion poofs from space, when it occurred to me that thanks to technology, I could actually verify that premise.

I pulled up Google Earth, a phenomenal satellite imaging tool available on any smartphone, tablet or other computer. Because of the location data in my tablet, Google knew just where I was and I watched the Earth spin and zoom straight to a satellite image of my street.

There was my front yard, green and tidy, if not quite as green and tidy as many of my neighbors’ yards. And there was the abysmal backyard, a swath of ground distinguished by its lack of greenery more than anything. The beige of dead grass is the salient characteristic there, interrupted by a couple of big juniper trees whose grayish-green branches block even more dead grass and bare spots from satellite view. A few patches of green grass linger around the edges, near the fence line. You can’t tell from Google Earth, but those patches are actually a bit overgrown.

While we try to keep our property presentable from the curb side, the backyard is another story entirely. It’s been that way ever since our dog, in a fit of destruction that seems to come upon all puppies around 6 months of age, chewed up the drip irrigation system my husband installed for a few flowerbeds and deck planters. We never recovered from the irrigation setback, and neither did the grass, not under the continued abuse of a large dog and two kids and our own general landscape apathy.

I feel guilty about it, I really do.

But as I spied my backyard from the perspective of a satellite, I began to notice a trend in my neighborhood. Many, many homes on my street and on nearby streets showed the same pattern: green and pretty front yards, brown and dry backyards.

Scrolling Google Earth around Bend, I saw more and more of this phenomenon. Sure, most people had a nice square of green behind their homes, but there were houses all over town that put on a pretty face out front with nice, neat lawns, but in the back — behind the fences and away from view — the grass was dead or patchy.

It’s like the landscape version of the mullet: nice up front, a mess in the rear.

You can’t imagine my relief at seeing all those brown backyards in my neighborhood; we weren’t the only ones hiding that particularly dirty secret.

I should note, by way of background, that my neighborhood is populated by many retired couples, whose abundance of free time is evidenced by their immaculately groomed, rich green carpets of grass and perfectly trimmed shrubs. My husband has long maintained that you can spot the homes of retired folks by the precision of their landscape maintenance and the fact that grass can’t get more than a quarter inch taller than optimum height before the mower is duly employed to shave that grass back into shape.

I’m sure their backyards are pretty sweet, too.

But there is no way we can live up to that standard. We try, we really do. Weed pulling, grass mowing, more and more and more water applied to only slightly weed-infested grass. More mowing. This allows us to just barely keep up appearances out front.

Just not out back.

But now I know I am not alone. So to my neighbors who hide similar secrets: You can try, as we do, to put on a pretty face out front. But satellites don’t lie. I know the truth, and it’s OK. You’re not alone, either.

Thank the heavens for tall fences.