Daylily Petals, Stamens, and Pistil
June 6, 2011, at Crow's Cottage
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Rural Washington County, Arkansas
The weeks pass so fast between the dawn of promise and the dusk of realization, between the hoped-for and the actual — that is, if you're one to let good ideas and sensible projects slide into the netherworld of the undone. Some call it procrastination. I prefer an admonishment: Lack of Will.
On a summer day when the heat wave is momentarily broken by lingering rain clouds, I note the passing of forty days since the earnest and practical Terri Lane of nearby Kessler Mountain gave her talk at the library in the nearby city. The next day, motivated, I strolled the gardens of the cottage, gathering imagery to illustrate the text of my letter to you. I wanted to tell you about her presentation, relate her hopes for harmony 'tween humans and non-humans in the habitat we share. I wanted to get it done in a day or two.
Then came the distractions, the deadline-driven duties, the debilitating spider bites and their energy-draining cure. To cover my psychic indolence, I began to toss my excuses into an out-of-the-way corner of the hacienda. It wasn't long before they made a mighty messy pile. This is an old tale, oft repeated.
So many starts and stops, so much done yet not done, so vast the habitat to be nurtured and maintained.
Daylily in Morning Sunlight
June 6, 2011, at Crow's Cottage
Crow's Cottage moved in May from the suburban cluster of the city to the rural spaciousness of the country. Those of us humans, animals, saplings, and flowers who made the move are better off for it. Life was good in the city. Life is good here, too — better, truth be told, if one is disposed to make vain comparisons.
Gerald Cathy, my late teacher, warned against the geographic cure, calling it an exercise in physical folly and spiritual futility. The same set of problems will accompany the man from one place to the other, he said. The way out can be found in the mirror and not on the map, he said. Yes, but . . . .
Some places are better than others in ways both mysterious and obvious. If the time is ripe and the Spirit ready — and it is — the new place can — and it does — provide a sense of grounded peace and the security of belonging that the old place could not. No matter how nurturing and comfortable it becomes, the old place is better left behind when perceived liabilities exceed familiar benefits. When the haints are roamin' too freely to be properly contained and the skeletons are rattlin' too loudly in the dark of night, one should see fit to make change happen.
Blackberries on the Vine
June 7, 2011, at Crow's Cottage
Terri Lane, project leader of the Fayetteville Community Wildlife Habitat Project, asked the audience those forty days ago to consider different ways of viewing property, especially urban and suburban property dominated by asphalt, concrete, lumber, glass, and steel. Animals and insects living amongst these human constructions face a daunting habitat of manicured lawns, sporadically placed parks, creeks altered by concrete walls and culverts, paved trails with narrow corridors of green, and tightly restricted flora groomed to satisfy the aesthetic ideals and commercial interests of the urban mind. "Sterile landscapes are the norm," Terri said at her presentation, raising the question: What can we do about it?
For Terri and her fellow activists, the answer involves coordinated, communal action to provide space — green, nurturing and connected — so that native wildlife species can find food, water, shelter, nesting sites, and mates. Create a new kind of urban infrastructure based on unbroken greenways, linking yard to yard and neighborhood to park and trail. Design a network of thoughtful wildlife corridors based on these green links, organize a core group of true believers, and then venture forth to educate and inspire enough fellow citizens to make it happen.
Daylily beside Barbed Wire at Twilight
June 6, 2011, at Crow's Cottage
Seldom do I venture forth into public space for anything other than the gathering of provisions and supplies or the repair and maintenance of essential tools and vehicles, but the newspaper article announcing Terri Lane's presentation raised themes long dear to me. Going out for a few hours on a Monday evening for a program about backyard habitats and wildlife-friendly communities seemed sensible enough, especially in light of a pressing thirst for inspiration. I also needed a hook to hang some ideas and images on. So I made my way to the library, hid on the front row of the meeting room, listened attentively, took my notes, and escaped with nary a feather ruffled nor a hackle raised. I'm sure the fifty or so folks in attendance were sweet and kind citizens all, but I'm currently caught-up in a tussle with creeping misanthropy and find it best to keep my contact with strangers to a minimum. I managed to avoid everyone.
In retrospect, I ask: Isolated or integrated? In harmony with the natural realm of flora and fauna, or disconnected behind a barrier of stone, lumber, and glass? How friendly to the birds 'n bees, flowers 'n trees is my backyard habitat?
Most humans — at least those who have the leisure or inclination to ponder one's place in the universe — want to get along with nature. Some of us consider woman and man to be a vital part of nature, neither severed nor alienated from it. Nature, that living substance beyond self, is directly and intimately connected to our experience as sentient beings. We are forever seeking to unite and become, to return to the garden gate and find entrance once again, to look forward to a seat in paradise.
A few of the builders and shakers, the money men and the smokers of big cigars, the nouveau conservatives who value material wealth and accumulation above all other measures of achievement — these representatives of the race strive to dominate and conquer their habitat, imposing architecturally precise structure and coldly defined economics upon the spaces out-of-doors. They are the anti-stewards, predatory masters who justify their haughty rule over nature's resources with a scrap of holy writ, in which God said, Let man have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over the small animals that scurry along the ground.
These are the destroyers come to rape the Earth through misrule and greed. They equate dominion with material omnipotence. Their kin are the warmongers and the riot squad. Together as a ravenous dark legion, living solely for the spiritless day, they exploit the yield of field and forest, stream and sea, glade and savanna in a manic rush to depletion.
Some others actively seek equitable accommodation with the plants and animals in their yards and neighborhoods. They are the conscious folk of the earth and hearth. Some are dreamy activists and vision seekers, others practical stewards and wise servants of the common good. Grounded and searching for balance, these are the smallholders, aware of the preciousness of nature's bounty and eager to find doable ways to protect and preserve it.
Buds and Blooms of a Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
June 6, 2011
We are left to choose as individuals how to relate to the habitat on the other side of closed doors to home and office, school and shop. Like any aspect of human behavior caught up in the whirlwind of debate and uncertainty — a controversial idea, an undecided issue, the philosophical notion — the choices for ordering, altering, and maintaining the habitat are defined by the impassioned and willful champions of opposing viewpoints. They make the noise, marshal the big machines and the grand ideas, build fences and form committees, design websites and action plans.
Yes, but . . . .
The ultimate outcome is another matter, one never fully aligned to the urgent and sharply defined agendas of the champions, but decided gradually through a symbiotic chain of individual acts. The steps leading to outcome are implemented in the vast middle, the fluid realm of the million shades of gray, where habitat flies under the radar and where individual desire and awareness are attuned to different passions and pursuits. Here, eventually, individual women and men will fall by inclination or persuasion into the camp of one champion or the other.
Window box or Xbox? Garden or four-wheeler? Green space or asphalt?
Yucca Flower Facing North at Sunset
June 6, 2011, at Crow's Cottage
The Fayetteville Community Wildlife Habitat Project promotes the slogan, "Creating Native Neighborhoods for All Species." The term native neighborhoods becomes provocative when I pause to consider the implications of the word native. It raises the notion of origin, the contrapuntal questions of stability and stagnation, the necessary interplay between tradition and innovation.
Does it matter, for instance, if I plant a native tulip poplar instead of a bradford pear, a native sassafras instead of a leyland cypress? Is the native pawpaw and buttonbush better for the habitat of Crow's Cottage than the not-so-native yucca and gooseberry bush? Don't know, can't say. I suppose the idea behind the term native neighborhoods is based on organic principles of indigenous harmony and not on philistine certitude. I suppose it is intended to inspire rather than restrict.
"The Ozark-Friendly Landscape," a brochure created by gardeners Cindi Cope and Leigh Wilkerson, sat on the information table in the room where Terri Lane spoke. The text explains why "native plants" are important to the ecological stability and natural balance of the habitat. It also provides a list of native trees and shrubs, which will surely guide my choices as I gradually strengthen the habitat here at Crow's Cottage.
One goal of the several organizations united behind the habitat project is to help Fayetteville satisfy the National Wildlife Federation's requirements for a "Certified Community Wildlife Habitat." Terri said there are 47 certified communities in the USA but none in Arkansas. She said 200 home owners or renters in the city must establish "backyard habitats" and then go online to certify their yard at the federation's "Garden For Wildlife" webpage.
I refuse to let my cynicism regarding corporate initiatives and mega non-profit organizations get in the way this time 'round. So what if the term "Certified Community Wildlife Habitat" comes with a ™ at the end. So what if the "Garden For Wildlife" certification webpage includes a tab titled "PAYMENT." So what if you can't find out how much it costs unless you register and sign in. I can't find a better alternative path to the goal of educating and inspiring others to respect our natural heritage and preserve our native habitat where it matters most, in one's own yard. The initiative makes sense despite the bourgeois character of the process.
Perhaps, fingers crossed, the movement to create a personal habitat based on codified principles of conservation and a philosophy of ecological reconciliation represents an emerging form of collective in search of realistic compromise between consumption and preservation. Two hostile sides standing toe-to-toe and shouting at one another produce little else but melodrama. Individuals working at home to provide food, water, ground cover, and safe places for city critters to raise their young is superior to the screed and the protest any ole day.
Leaf of a Tulip Poplar
June 6, 2010
I arrive back where I began, inside looking out, alone in the cottage with my dogs and my dreams, thinking about the first sunflower bloom — it opened to greet the universe only yesterday — and the prospects for overcoming habitat loss and fragmentation. At times like these, when I'm attracted to a cause, and see the value of its goals, and respect the citizens who are determined to make it happen, I wish I hadn't dropped out of civil society some years ago. But those are fleeting wishes entangled in the illusion of ego. It's better to stand up and assume one's designated place on the wall, no matter how far removed that place might appear on the surface.
The world is alive with good folk who plant trees and flowers, or feed birds and turtles, or educate their fellows about the wonders of nature, or petition governments and pressure corporations to heed the necessity of providing for wildlife in the city. They plant seeds of encouragement in the public space of shared ideals.
It's hot outside. The weatherman on TV predicts seven consecutive days of 100-degree afternoons. The flowers and bushes I tend are thirsty now. Time comes to look away from the word on the page, open a door, step into the heat, and deliver a cool drink to the petal and the root. The butterflies and wasps, bumblebees and birds, turtles and frogs who live or visit here depend on the native and not-so-native plants of the cottage gardens to provide much of their sustenance and shelter. The steward serves a habitat already given.
L I N K S
Certify Your Wildlife Garden
The National Wildlife Federation's portal for habitat certification invites you to "join the nearly 140,000 cites across the country" and "Certify Now." Click the little box and you'll be transported to a page with five options: Sign In, Habitat Elements, About Your Habitat, Adresses, and Payment. You can even order a sign for your yard.
Fayetteville Community Habitat Project
Terri Lane's page on the City of Fayetteville web provides a detailed look at the initiative to gain certification. Schools, businesses, and faith communities are invited to join individuals in the habitat project. There is also a link to the online version of the project brochure.
Autum's End: The Season Changes
The previous Letter from Crow's Cottage.
If you'd like to see larger photographs of the flowers and plants featured on this page, just scroll back up and click any image. The click will take you there. Presto.
Wed 07/20/2011 09:56
David G. Smith,
whose Delaware Wildflowers is one of the web's very special places, writes:
For me part of the appeal of native plants is that they are (in some cases, anyway) both different from the mainstream garden plants, and rare in the wild. The nine-foot-tall Lactuca floridana in my yard are maybe just ridiculously big weeds to my neighbors, but to me they are rare native plants, different from what anyone else has in their yard. Of course, finding a rare plant in the wild to photograph is a special treat.
N O T E :
David's Delaware Wildflowers is a free, open, non-commercial web devoted to original photographs and taxonomy about flora and fauna. It reflects the best traditions of the World Wide Web.
Mon 07/18/2011 13:26
a teacher from Belleville, Arkansas, writes:
I enjoyed your discussion about wildlife and natural habitats. We used to have a lot of quail around Yell County, but now we don’t. One of the reasons ‘they say’ is because of loss of habitat. Farmers keep their pastures more tidy now, trying to get all the grass possible for cattle, and the brushy, grownup areas are gone.
Right now I have enough bumble bees to make me nervous. The crepe myrtle are blooming and the bumble bees are so thick. They are like dogs and follow me to the mailbox and everywhere else I go. They seem to say, "What are you doing? Do you have anything to eat?"
Notices announcing the publication of each Letter from Crow's Cottage are sent by e-mail express to my list of family, friends, students, and fellow travelers. If you've come here by some other means than an e-mail invitation, and would like to receive notices, please write me so I can add you to the list. I share the addresses with no one but Godzilla the Atomic Road Lizard, who can't type, doesn't do e-mail, and won't tell.
form the narrative "Travels with Godzilla."
The Journey Ends:
Bye, Buck Bowles.
Monday, August 31
By the Hand of Man.
Thursday, August 27
Shy and Wonderful:
Of the Wild Image.
Wednesday, August 26
It Wasn't the Flood.
Tuesday, August 25
So Many Mountains
Giving Some Up.
Monday, August 24
Pay Is Pay
Saturday, August 22
Counting the Lanes.
Friday, August 21
An Easy Puzzle:
Flat and Tidy.
Thursday, August 20
A Fine Old Motor Vessel
Makes a Smooth Crossing
from Jersey to Delaware.
Wednesday, August 19
Sandy Pine Barrens
On a Road to Heaven.
Tuesday, August 18
Sugar Hollow Road:
Not too Far
down the Way
Friday, August 14
Thursday, August 13
Off Balance, Agitated.
Tuesday, August 11
Success and Fear
On the Sly Peripheral.
Monday, August 10
You Want to Take Forever.
Sunday, August 9
Carry Me Home.
Saturday, August 8
Friday, August 7