Does your back yard slope up, away from your house, or does it slope down?

The likelihood that your yard slopes one way or the other … statistically … depends in large part on what region you live in. (Here I’ll be speaking mainly of the US, but the principle applies broadly.) If you live in New England, your yard is more likely to slope up. If you live in the Midwest/Plains, your yard is more likely to slope down

This is because in New England, we humans build our settlements around rocks. Because there are rocks. (If you don’t believe me, note that all the famous rock farms are in New England.) You get a big aircraft carrier size rock, you build your streets around its base, the houses face the streets, and the yards travel up the rock in the back.

In the glaciated Upper Midwest, we build our settlements around swamps and ponds, again, because there are a lot of them. They don’t call Minnesota the “Land of Lakes” for its rocks! In fact, rocks are so hard to find around here that when people do find them, they put them out in their front yards like sculptures.

So, you build your road on the high ground, put the houses along the road, and by definition (high vs. low) the yards slope down to the swamp. Which, of course, you fill in with dirt, but it’s still low ground.

This is why dogs in New England are less hyper than dogs in the midwest. When all the yards slope down, even tall fences do not cover the view from the back windows to all the neighbor’s yards, and thus, all the neighbor’s squirrels and all the neighbor’s dogs. But in New England, what with the rocks and all, the view from a person’s yard may consist mainly of the person’s yard and not so much the neighbor’s yards. So, in the Midwest, a dog may have an acre or more of wooded parkland squirrel habitat to look at, while in New England, maybe one squirrel, maybe none. (And, removing the squirrels in New England has a better chance of working long term as well.)

Obviously, this will vary a lot. What I’ve just said applies more to suburbs than to urbs (though not entirely). In South Minneapolis, for instance, the swamps are all parks. Really. Go look at any park in South Minneapolis and you’ll see that it’s a major low spot. If it is big enough, there will be a lake down there, if not, just a filled in swamp. The local geology dictates that the yards are mostly flat (and that, therefore, the airport is nearby!) and that the main thing you see in your yard is your garage and the alley. So, South Minneapolis yards are more like New England yards than one might expect. And, in New England, if your yard backs on a stream, obviously, you have a low area, but you don’t get the above described view, because the stream will be accompanied by an edaphic woodland riverine forest. People who live in those houses have very nervous dogs, because … of the raccoons.

This relationship between landscape and lifestyle is fairly trivial, but there are a thousand (well, OK, dozens) of ways in which regional geology and physical geography shape your life, and they can add up. These aspects of the land add to cultural feature of a region to form a palpable gestalt.

Look around you. How is your cultural landscape shaped by bedrock, sediments, drainage patterns, and patterns of natural vegetation?

Comments

  1. #1 Dave
    July 5, 2010

    OK..i live in South Minneapolis and the streets are lower than our homes which sit like they are on a canal,if the street was was filled with water.great for privacy as passers can’t really seen in your windows.so whats the story there?
    by the way when they replaced the alley house next door and put a bigger home in the pit made for the basement showed we were on a few feet of black prairie dirt over sand,lots of sand.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    July 5, 2010

    Dave, it depends on where in SoMo you live. I’m guessing either east of Hiawatha or near Minnihaha/50th.

  3. #3 Dave
    July 5, 2010

    haha and 50 area..your knowledge is vast!we are just off the Ft Snelling Reserve and i assume our blocks may have some history.Coldwater Spring is at the end of the street.i’ll look the web over for some old maps.thanks for the start into this.

  4. #4 Lorax
    July 6, 2010

    Live in Roseville, N of St.Paul/Minneapolis. Yard slopes down, ie House is higher than surrounding immediate area. That was intelligently designed (chosen). Grew up in New England in a low lying area….a sump pump can only do so much. As an adult, Ild rather have gravity on my side.

  5. #5 suomynonA
    July 6, 2010

    With lakefront property, your front yard faces the lake.

    Perhaps this post should be retitled “How geology affects your perception of front and back yards”? ;)

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    July 6, 2010

    suomynonA: There is controversy in those seemingly still waters. My wife’s family was nearly torn asunder over this. Some thought the side of the house where you pulled up the car was the front, and that the cabin had a lake in it’s back yard. Others thought the lake was the front. The patriarch of the family settled the issue by carving wooden signs saying “Front” and “Back” and affixing them to the cabin, one on each side.

  7. #7 MikeMa
    July 6, 2010

    I have lived most of my life in the rock strewn north east and I will say we also have many rock sculptures in the yard because to remove them takes a lot of work!

    I had a house in Elkton MD which was built on old farm ground. I was building a rock wall to flatten a sloping yard and looking for raw material. I found a rock burial ground along the edge of the trees in the back yard where the farmer had dumped the rocks his plowing had uncovered over many, many years. I was able to build nearly 40 feet of 5 foot high mostly wall from that deposit.

  8. #8 Kathy
    July 8, 2010

    This is about the dumbest argument for differences in dog behavior that I’ve ever read anywhere! Dogs are hyper or not due entirely to how much exercise they get, what they’re fed, their genetic background and how much attention and training they get from their owners. It has nothing to do with the geology of their owners’ backyard.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    July 8, 2010

    Kathy, you obviously have never seen a dog.

    Or at least, you’ve never seen a dog looking out a window in a house with squirrels in the back yard.

    There are no differences between dogs once they see the squirrel. Well, there is some difference. The dogs that don’t go after the squirrel? Those are the dead ones.

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