We took out the last of the lawns in 2072.
We knew they needed too much water. The St. Augustine grass that was once so common here was a thirsty native of the Caribbean, and its runners were right for sandy coasts. Less so for urban lawns. It wasn’t drought-tolerant, and as the summers got hotter (and our water supply tighter) over the late 2020’s, more and more homeowners converted to Buffalo and Zoysia grass. Eventually, though, the new common wisdom took hold — don’t have a lawn.
Xeriscaping became the new norm. Down in Texas that meant lots of terraced limestone yards, filled with dirt and packed with crushed granite, and busting with cacti and aloe-vera, succulents and century-plants. Further West Saguaros made a comeback, roughly analagous to the grand front-yard oaks and sycamores we once had over here. The deep South, with wetter summers, was able to keep grasses in their front lawns for the most part (except in New Orleans; space inside the flood walls was at too much a premium once the rising waters of the gulf finally surrounded the city).
We didn’t expect the dust-devils.
Grass is mostly roots. The blades that poke up are thin pickings compared to the thick, intertwined root structures that reach deep into the soil under the turf. It helps keep the soil together, especially during the month of torrential rain that comes every summer, late April to early May. From June till September, when it starts to cool again, our lawns had been absorbing some of the intense heat that gets trapped in the city’s asphalt and radiates all through the night.
As the lawns went away, the heat-island effect got worse. Nobody argued with the benefits of our dusty, desertified yards in terms of water consumption. There were some arguments over the carbon-sink effects—whether grass absorbed more CO2 than our mower and weed-wackers spewed—but for the most part, reasonable people had agreed it was a good idea to kill the lawns down here. What really got us was foresight. Or maybe hindsight. Either way, by the 90’s it was too late.
By 2100, urban dust-devils were a regular seasonal terror in Texas and the Southwest. Even parts of California, Los Angeles in particular, had some freak vortexes appear and disappear. The little storms never collided and built the way some of us thought they might. They just stayed small, roaming for twenty or so minutes at a time, ripping apart yards, taking down mailboxes and leaving cars coated (inside and out) in dust. They didn’t cause much damage, less than a hurricane might, but their constant presence inside the city was unnerving. Getting caught in one was, predictably, no fun. Asthmatics began carrying around emergency gas masks (with filters designed for sandstorms) alongside their inhalers.
I’d only seen one. I think it appeared in the old baseball diamond a few blocks away. When I was little, it would’ve been stopped by the dense Juniper around Blunn creek, but it’d been years since that little stream had any water over the lingering summers, and eventually the dry spells were too long for the trees to hold out. Now it was mostly low scrub, which was no trouble to the devils. It migrated up the neighborhood, taking a window out of Julio’s house down the street with some rock it flung, and died just as it was approaching my corner.
I’d heard the glass shatter and came to the door just in time to see the dust cloud dissapate. It reminded me of the way our old fuel-combustion trucks and buses would sometimes belch out a great puff of smoke after they’d sat idling for a while. It was always accompanied by a groan of exertion from the engine, so different from the dust-devil’s great dying sigh.