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June and Ecological Hope

Birds on Backyard Feeder

June marks the beginning of the summer season which is good news; the bad news is that it is also mowing season. As I look out the front window I see three lawns mowed to “perfection”. Not a blade of grass out of place. No leaf litter, no native plants, no messy trees. No robins grubbing for worms in the grass, no squirrels hunting for nuts; really, no life other than a grass monoculture. These are large yards requiring riding lawnmowers, chemicals, fertilizers and watering. I can imagine that the owners are proud of them. They care that their lawns are deemed “beautiful” in this neighborhood, and they are spending money doing what they believe to be a good thing; however, these lawns don’t give me hope!

Looking out my back window I see the opposite. There are weeds, lots of leaf litter, huge red oaks and pine trees continually dropping branches and needles, and a yard full of life. Since October I have counted over thirty bird species visiting the feeder, the trees, the ground and bird houses. Six rose-breasted grosbeaks descended on the feeder at one time. Four native bee nesting boxes are completely occupied. Squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, groundhogs and possums are frequent visitors.

Meanwhile I am reading Doug Tallamy’s latest book Nature’s Best Hope in which he shares this important statistic: more than 83% of land in our country is privately owned. This fact leads him to conclude that conservation needs to happen on private lands of all kinds; in back yards, small cities and villages and in large corporate landscapes. He tells us, “Conservation is everyone’s responsibility.” The title Nature’s Best Hope refers to your and my back yards and to all privately owned land.

Tallamy notes that we can’t rely on National Parks alone to do the work of protecting biodiversity. This approach to conservation is obviously not working, is not enough to save many of our plants and animals from extinction. We need something more. He recommends that, in addition to National Parks, we create a Homegrown National Park that is made up of lands where we live and work. That’s why you and I and any lands we can influence are nature’s best hope.

We nurture the virtue of ecological hope whenever we plant native flowers, trees, and shrubs; when we provide habitat for butterflies, bees, frogs, birds, squirrels and bats. We nurture it when we refuse to buy into our cultural obsession with monoculture lawns, and when we change what we consider to be beautiful. We nurture it when we celebrate by enjoying the rich life in which we are embedded.

Observing my neighbors’ lawns evokes the opposite of celebration. Current statistics tell us we have planted over 40 million acres in lawn, and each weekend we mow an area 8 times the size of New Jersey. This is not sustainable, and hopefully someday soon it will no longer be considered the norm for beauty.

Concluding thoughts from the encyclical Laudato Si’:

Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems. And one more: All it takes is one good person to restore hope!


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