Saving the Earth
...in your own backyard
Humankind is spreading across the land, building houses, highways, shopping centers, office buildings and industrial sites over most of the natural world at an alarming pace. Change is inevitable, but it must not all be bad. We are intelligent creatures, can learn from our past mistakes and successes, and discover new things to help us live in harmony with nature.
Over the past twenty years anthropologists and archeologists studying the Americas have learned that when the first European settlers arrived in the New World things were not as we once thought. The vast forests of what was to become the eastern United States were actually the overgrown remains of great forest orchards tended by native Americans before influenza, smallpox, and other illnesses brought by the first explorers, decimated their populations. These orchards were filled with nut and fruit trees to sustain the growing populations of the indigenous peoples living up and down eastern America. Current estimates put the native population of North America, just before the arrival of Columbus in the West Indies, at a substantial twenty-five million; hardly the scattered bands of primitive, roving, "Indians" as was once believed!
Perhaps we can learn something from this past. Unless stopped by some great, catastrophic plague, or other event such as geologic upheaval, or asteroid impact, humans will continue to procreate and fill the earth. There is nothing left to do but adapt our settlement methods and patterns for the benefit of the rest of creation. Suburban expansion need not be a negative thing if it incorporates naturalizing every backyard and creating greenways, allowing native wild plants and trees to thrive alongside our cultivated gardens and ornamental plantings, as well as establishing and protecting large conservation zones in every county and state.
Natural diversity helps ensure the health of planet earth. Whether ones believes that life evolved over billions of years, or that God created the world and all of its intricate workings in just six days, the resulting conclusion must invariably be the same, that each and all of the wonderfully made individual components have meaning and purpose, and must not be driven to extinction by the careless, self-centered actions of humankind. It would be an insult to the Universe.
Much damage has already been done. In the last thirty years alone, hundreds of species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals worldwide, have become extinct.
"The power of living Nature lies in
sustainability through complexity."
from "The Creation" by E.O. Wilson
Forest when Captain John Smith explored here in 1607, farm fields when Lincoln was president, but not even one back yard today in this part of Arlington,Virginia...
Unless prudent action is taken immediately, it is likely that by the end of this century, half of the world's plants and animals will disappear forever. The choice is ours...
Ironically, saving the earth is easy. We really don't have to do anything at all. Nature has the power to heal itself, if we'll let it. There was a popular bumper sticker a few years ago that said it all; "let the earth live."
Do you have a large lawn? Give yourself a break next time you mow, and just do half of it. Be creative and design a landscape plan that will allow wildflowers and plants space to grow around the perimeter of your property. You'll enjoy the colors and fragrances as one by one, Queen Anne's Lace, Brown Eyed Susan, Purple Asters, Oxeye Daisy, and even Goldenrod, find their way back to your lot. Soon, butterflies, bees, and birds that rely on wild plants for food will also come to visit. The birds may even bring gifts of berry seeds, already packaged with a little fertilizer, to grow in your wild space. After awhile, if so inclined, you could be sipping on coffee made from Chicory root, drinking wild raspberry leaf tea, eating wild greens and mushrooms, or making wild berry jam, all from plants in your own backyard.
"Since it will take perhaps a hundred years before a few of these seeds will become trees reaching into the canopy, now is the time to start, not later. Now is the time to give a few nut trees the chance to help re-create the diverse forest that must have been here a long time ago.
Planting nuts requires a vision for a future that goes beyond one's mortal reach. If we envision ourselves as participants in the same grand, complex web of interactions as the forest, then planting acorns is like planting a part of ourselves. The morality that comes from such a vision of ecosystem-as-life is a common thread that, if taught and encouraged, could unite all of mankind."
from "The Trees in My Forest" by Bernd Heinrich
All photos are copyrighted and may only be used with permission.
Next, you may want to get involved with others who have similar interests. A quick Google search for "wild edible workshops" will connect you to dozens of knowledgeable individuals and organizations around the country. In the Northeast, Russ Cohen, author of "Wild Plants I Have Known and Eaten," leads workshops from spring to fall each year. "Wildman Steve Brill" has a terrific website and teaches wild edibles right in New York City! In the Southeast, Ila Hatter, known as "lady of the forest," is a staff instructor for the University of Tennessee's Smoky Mountain Field School who presents various nature and wild edible workshops throught North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. The National Wildlife Federation currently has a popular Backyard Wildlife Habitat program that provides valuable information for transforming your yard into a mini wildlife sanctuary.
Other topics to research on the Internet include, "ecological restoration," "permaculture," and
"greenways." Around the globe there are hundreds of thousands of people already working to protect and restore natural diversity. Become one of them....