Thursday, May 21, 2015

Gardening Needs to Change

The same self interest that dominates our consumer-driven capitalist culture -- and that destroys biodiversity, ecosystem health, and planetary resiliency -- is evoked in how we garden. If we garden for ourselves, choosing only those plants whose blooms or leaves are pretty to us but not to pollinators and other wildlife, we are directly harming the planet through wasted space and denied life processes. Even if we see one bee on a hosta bloom or a bird perched in a Japanese maple, it does not mean these plants are beneficial to wildlife or the ecosystem -- the web of life is much more intricate than a momentary observation; it's so intricate we may never know, and that's ok. 


A new gardening ethic that is required does not limit your options, attack you, or condemn -- but it is easy to feel that these things are happening because the larger implications are that even our smallest actions matter in some negative ways; but such a revelation can be empowering if we embrace the challenge, and the joy, of living with nature and not against it (and learning from it). While gardens are totally artifice and may never be fully integrated into the larger / wilder world, in an age of novel ecosystems where nothing is left untouched by us, gardens become lifelines -- both for other species and ourselves, physically and emotionally. Garden with regional native plants. Celebrate your unique home. Get in balance with a life our cultural systems say are invalid, dangerous, and of another time and place when we were "lesser" as a species.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

New Front, De-Lawned, Prairie Garden Coming Back

Last May my wife and I received a letter from county weed control that our front lawn was too long -- this was likely brought to their attention by a neighbor. Unlike my neighbors who mow weekly, or thrice weekly for one of them, I tend to mow once a month at most. The front yard always grew slowly, being on a slight slope and in full sun. Still, the lawn was probably around 8-10" on the edges where neighbor sprinklers helped it grow unnaturally fast; this surely led to a slightly unkempt look.

For a few years I'd been trying to get the nerve to do something different out front, and when my wife agreed, we started a plan. We used crowd-funding for the 100% native plant conversion, and many generous donors shared our vision of wanting to create a more sustainable yet beautiful example for suburbs and cities alike. Hopefully, my plan of drought-tolerant drifts and masses, while using a matrix of 50% grasses, will look like wildness ordered -- and be a boon to wildlife while being much less maintenance than lawn. Once the space fills in more, I'll do some writing for local pubs on it and host tours / workshops (it did appear at Houzz this winter). For now, this is what it looks like.

The hellstrip needs weeding / sodding. It's there to help the garden blend in.
Two weeks ago we received 7" of rain in a few hours, which resulted in permanent waves of soil in parts of the garden, washed out mulch, washed out soil, and a few plant losses. Add to this the fact that fescue is poking up through the mulch -- we clearly didn't have the sodcutter set deep enough -- and there's plenty of first-year work to do. Overall, it looks like 90-95% of the grasses and flowers came back. I think the largest challenge during the first years of establishment will be the gangly stage -- namely, forbs outpacing grasses... little bluestem, sideoats grama, and prairie dropseed. Already, pale purple coneflower is shooting up over a foot and the warm-season grasses are barely stirring. I can't wait for the green mulch to fill in and cover the necessary-beast of wood chips.

If you're in the area and would ever like to see the front garden, or the back (nearly 8 years old now), please contact me. Hopefully, the front "yard" will be an inspiration for others.

Back garden last week.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Less Honey Bee, More Native Bee



Stop with the honey bees. Every day I come across a half dozen new articles on the plight of the European honey bee. It's become sheer agony for me. Frankly, even though neonics and modern farming techniques play a key role in honey bee loss (among many other life forms), I think the attention the news media and everyday folks subsequently place on honey bees does nothing but bolster modern agriculture; and what I mean by that is the image of a bee shifts the mental image away from sprays and rows of corn to something different, more human and feeling. I especially love the irony of Bayer's Bee Care Center.

Of course the focus on honey bees also takes us away native bees and other pollinators. When it takes 60% of ALL U.S. honey bee colonies to pollinate just the almond crop in California (some 80% of global almonds come from CA), we create one dangerous monoculture supporting another. The Xerces Society has recently begun planting native plant hedgerows in 1,000 acres of almond farms in California, as well as pollinator ground cover among the trees, as a way to increase pollination success, mitigate pesticides, and lesson the need for water.

 
Native bees are vanishing as fast as honey bees, maybe faster. Many require native plants -- plenty of species forage on only one species (oligolectic bees), let's take aster, gathering pollen and nectar for winter larvae to eat before they emerge as adult bees the next spring and summer. Native bees collectively have a pollination efficiency rate of 91%, compared to honey bees at 71%. Tomatoes can only be pollinated by native bees, and crops like squash, blueberries, and alfalfa are better pollinated by native bee species evolved for the job. It's been shown that strawberries are more uniform in shape and have a longer shelf life -- making them appealing to consumers and grocery stores -- if a diversity of bees pollinate them. Honey bees are more inclined to visit generalist flowers, those more often visited by a wide range of pollinators, which reduce seed yield and genetic diversity of other plants. Often, when you take just one bee species out of the foraging equation, total pollination rates fall.

75-90% of native bee species are also solitary, nesting in the ground or in holes found in trees, for example (which makes farm hedgerows a necessity). That solitary nesting leads to more benign bees -- they don't have that "protect the hive mentality" that gives all bees -- maybe most flying insects -- a bad rap and a high fear factor. I once did a garden consult where the client asked that I keep away any flowers that might attract bees from the front porch or sidewalk, which is a lot like asking me to stay out of the candy drawer.

With 4,000 native species who have and still could pollinate more effectively than honey bees, I'd like to see more articles written on providing native bee habitat. Let's start talking about prairie STRIPs. Let's look at New Mexico, who's been planting 7,500 miles of road edges with native forbs and grasses -- increasing pollinator habitat and significantly reducing the amount of carbon pollution caused by passing motorists (not to mention maintenance bills from mowing too often). Let's get to the root of sustainability and the trillions of dollars worth of free global pollinator services that happen each year -- more habitat with native plants, starting in our gardens, parks, city grounds, highway edges, and farm margins.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Saying Goodbye

It's been about two weeks since my grandmother passed away -- my last grandparent. In a lot of ways I'm lucky to have had a member of this generation into my near middle age, but in so many ways she should still be here (she passed away for five minutes the day before she actually passed away, still having a very strong and healthy heart). Alzheimer's got her, and I'm still not sure what she directly died of. It doesn't matter. This weekend is a made up holiday, one so saccharine it oozes with guilt and loss and doubt and lonliness as much as it does genuine love and admiration.

I recently read an article that says we don't remember events or people, but simply the last time we remembered them; in this way memory is a false guide, continually diminishing and re-arranging experience until who we are now is who we have always been. I suppose in all of us memory is a false guide, yet the feelings those memories are based on must surely be the true core, the perhaps unalterable constant in the center.

I'm not sure my grandmother's death has hit me yet, and I'm not sure it ever will. It's the most surreal thing I think I've ever lived through. All I know is this weekend my mother is without a parent for the first time in her life, and I can't imagine that feeling; I know I never want to experience it myself.

Grandma on far right, my mom third from right
What will time bring, what will we be ready for, what will we remember before it happens so that after it happens we have a truer essence of time, life, and being alive?

My grandmother was truly kind and forgiving. She made family her life as one would expect from a grandmother. She was involved. She was full of living the present. She made big mistakes and took risks. She lost children to death and estrangement. She made it all work out through a faith and hope I need to reconnect with before I can live a more authentic and purpose-driven life. There is an absence in my life that's growing bigger, but it has less to do with people than it does with actionable hope and letting go of who I used I to be.

We erase life as we live it, author Tim O'Brien says; we lose moments as we experience and move past them. All of the images in my grandmother's photo albums from the last 70 & 80 years hold black and white shadows of people mostly forgotten and nameless, but there in that moment they are so full of presence that they are just like me -- they are me, each of us a wave rolling on to the shore, rising, loud, heavy with gravitas until we fade into the coastline and become the wave behind us.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Rethinking Pretty (Spring Edition)

“Because human beings were born of the biosphere and are dependent on it for their every breath, we are understandably enchanted by all aspects of life. It follows logically that the protection of biodiversity should be a moral imperative and universal conservation should be one of humanity’s transcendent goals.”—E.O. Wilson

Native plants aren't weedy or messy, and they support a ton of wildlife while waking us to our home ground and the environmental issues that will foster a sustainable today and tomorrow. Celebrate a deeper level of beauty.  Garden with defiant compassion amid climate change, habitat loss, and extinction.






Monday, April 27, 2015

Calling Nature "It" Absolves Us of Moral Responsibility?

Certainly will be discussing this in my garden ethics book manuscript. What do you think?

"Objectification of the natural world reinforces the notion that our species is somehow more deserving of the gifts of the world than the other 8.7 million species with whom we share the planet. Using “it” absolves us of moral responsibility and opens the door to exploitation. When Sugar Maple is an “it” we give ourselves permission to pick up the saw. “It” means it doesn’t matter."

"Colonization, we know, attempts to replace indigenous cultures with the culture of the settler. One of its tools is linguistic imperialism, or the overwriting of language and names. Among the many examples of linguistic imperialism, perhaps none is more pernicious than the replacement of the language of nature as subject with the language of nature as object. We can see the consequences all around us as we enter an age of extinction precipitated by how we think and how we live."

Full essay here.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Deeper Debate About Native Plants -- Ethics, Empathy, Freedom

The "debate" about native plants is actually one about our larger role on the planet. The often used "dogma" or "agenda" labels ascribed to native plant proponents are meant to trivialize, because taking responsibility for how we live -- and coming to terms with the web of life in western culture -- has always meant an undermining of perceived personal liberty. And that hurts. We don't want to feel hurt. We have a happiness myth that says anything "sad" must be bad and therefore undesirable and therefore erased from culture and consciousness. Unfortunately, we've been poisoned with hierarchical thinking that says we -- American humans -- know best, and that we must push the myth of happiness (or denial) at any cost, because conformity is freedom.

I can think of no greater freedom than living a more selfless life in any way I can, providing for others, seeing myself as part of a web, humbled and connected to my home ground, full of where I am from.  Knowing that what I plant matters -- or where I drive or what container I drink from or where my electricity comes from -- is not an indictment but a call to action. Awareness and knowledge create freedom and positive change, which terrifies individuals and groups who have the majority power and profit through our world's loss.

If we can't see native plants as anything more than a personal indictment we can't see the greater good, the democratic principal of inalienable rights that all lives have to live out their time on earth naturally and freely (we do currently perceive this via monarch butterflies). Once upon a time lawns were seen as the democratic ideal, linking houses together in a sign of egalitarian unity; we know now what large swaths of lawn truly represent, and they mimic a scaled down version of what our larger practices represent -- from tar sands oil extraction to overfishing to plastic pollution to wasting fresh water to glyphostate.

Or, "I don't JUST love plants...."
I do not think the debate is about native plants vs. exotics, even though we seldom realize it or address it; instead, the debate is about a burgeoning awareness of how we have forever altered the world, often in destructive and terrifyingly unpredictable ways, and that to change our course means changes to our safe and comfortable assumptions that are culturally, socially, and corporately defined.

This is why the novel ecosystem perspective is so tantalizing -- it helps us transition away from unhappy awareness and a closer study of ourselves and our world, shifting the burden of proof or responsibility to something beyond our control; we are part of nature, and thus our manipulation of it requires no "restrictive" ethical code that could guide us to a profound reality of our human condition. A reality that shows we are as fragile and temporary and prone to dust as any other life form on the planet (thus equal and connected), and that our hearts and minds are not so much a liability as an evolutionary miracle and profound gift. That aforementoned liability comes in the form of empathy for other species and for future generations of humans; surely empathy is the greatest equalizer in the web of life, and it's our most important faculty. It's also the greatest freedom we can give ourselves as we garden selflessly and become empowered through the act of planting aster, oak, goldenrod, mountain mint, viburnum, or milkweed.

What's the next step? Where do we begin? Creating landscapes with as many site-adapted natives as we can, in designs that are appealing, artistic, and demonstrate the full capacity of our natural heritage and ethical role on this world. Where else? Sitting still in front of a flower for ten minutes watching what lands and takes off, what climbs the stalk, what waits in hiding for prey; think of it as empathy exercise, spiritual exercise, or the freedom of consciousness to dream bigger.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Sandhill Cranes

For millions of years the sandhill cranes have come through what is now central Nebraska, stopping along the Platte River on their migration north. Families rest and eat for a week or two then move on -- a total upwards of 500,000. They come along with countless other species, all in a flyway's bottleneck pinch in the middle of the Great Plains. Their calls are haunting and deep -- truly ancient. To hear thousands lift from the fields and circle the river at dusk is an experience that lifts one, only for a moment, back into a right relation with the world. We go every year at sunset.



Thursday, April 9, 2015

Poetry, Constraint, Art, & Native Plants

My poetry students go nuts when I make them write a sonnet or villanelle or in blank verse -- it's so constraining, so limiting, so awkward, so forced. How can they possibly express themselves in just 144 syllables with meter and rhyme? Eventually, some get it and let go, and when they do they learn far more about the English language, the sound and sense, the depths of knowledge and art that happen, and soon realize it's not a constraint at all -- it develops and explodes their writing in any form. Without precision there can be no effective writing. In free verse, the writing can be too sloppy, too loose, loses the image, the metaphor, the sound, the best word in the best place. This is how I think of gardens, and especially native plant gardens. Using 100% native plants is not limiting, but limitless. When you play with the form and sound and color of the plants, combined with the rich diversity of wildlife that come in an ecological design mimicking natural landscapes, you play with a language that sets life free on many levels and you come to know the world in a rich way. You cannot know an art or a place without understanding the many little intricacies that brought it into being -- and when you do that you begin to transcend the self and connect in a way that brings us into a web of life, not a hierarchy of life. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Speak Up, Speak Out

I'm going to keep speaking for the voiceless -- those species and organisms who no longer have or never had a voice in our consciousness -- no matter the cost. From grouse to prairie dogs, beetles to milkweed, I draw the line knowing what that means, what I will lose. If you believe in climate change, if you believe in extinction, if you believe we have a direct and powerful hand in this, you know you must speak up, too; as you know your action must follow that powerful voice. Fight for prairie. Fight for the last stand of blowout penstemon. Fight for the last prairie dog. Fight for the last sentence that makes us equal to the beauty and purpose of every organism. Oh, you'll have to develop a thick skin, but the stakes could not be higher. Don't lose face, don't lose sight, sit in the garden at sunset and feel the silent depth wash over you as if you were riding down your own last day on this earth. Dream the impossible dream -- that we all have the equal right to exist, that we all depend upon one another, that we are all beautiful and an imperfect perfection... every stem, every bloom, every burrow, every cloud, every kiss, every touch. Rise up and love in defiant compassion for all that we negate through our closed-off culture.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Blessing of Snow Geese in the Garden

A weekend ago I met with some design clients and secured a job. As we stood in their backyard a line of snow geese slid across the sky. After lunch when I got home I headed out front to tinker on a small bed I'm re-working -- line after line after line of snow geese moved northwest for 10-15 minutes. Two groups were bunched up tight in the distance, as if they were balloons just let go from a lake a mile or two away. As they got high enough into the thermals they began to form lines and pointed themselves toward those groups that had recently passed them above. Their calls don't pierce the air so much as reconfirm the presence of air and wind and distance and time. Are they calling "here, here here" or "there, there, there?" Are they encouraging one another? Does it matter to me, a human, trying to force my shallow terrestrial understanding, beliefs, sensibilities, and cultural language upon? Everything has a right to exist, and we have no right to say or do otherwise if we value who we claim to be in our best moments -- full of love, hope, forgiveness, and equanimity. Yesterday the geese were a blessing and a gift, and I think in some ways a confirmation of who we are meant to be.



Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Ultimate Pollinator & Native Plant Gardening Guide

I'm celebrating 2 years of Milk the Weed with the nerdiest, awesome-ist list of links on butterfly and pollinator gardening I can come up with. It's certainly not a complete list, but I hope it's helpful to you as both a practical and philosophical guide. Time to make a profound change in our landscapes; time to connect in a deeper way to our home ground and ourselves through the web of life that sustains us.* Prairie up! 


Milkweed Profiles

12 U.S. milkweeds in depth from the National Wildlife Federation. 

Milkweed species by state as listed by Monarch Watch.

Total milkweed guide -- how they get pollinated, pics, ranges, how to propagate.

Everything you ever wanted to know about milkweed. Period. From The Xerces Society.

Collecting and growing milkweed from seed courtesy of Beautiful Wildlife Garden.

 
Milkweed / Monarch Issues

A rundown of all the key topics, with links.

Conservation photographer Joel Sartore takes action and prairies up his Nebraska farm.

How monarchs use milkweed, from toxicity in certain species of milkweed to butterflies self-medicating. 

Can milkweed be bad for monarchs?

The loss of monarchs is a loss of far more

How the farm bill hurts monarchs via High Country News.


Native Plant Guides by Region -- Go Beyond Monarchs, Feed the Ecosystem

Pollinator Partnership 

The Xerces Society


Native Plant Gardening

The ethics of native plant gardens.

Non native plants may be ecological traps for wildlife.

90% of insects will only eat and reproduce on plants with which they have an evolutionary history. 96% of songbirds feed insects to their young. Songbirds are vanishing at 1-3% per year. Follow the link

How to find the right plant for your landscape.

6 native plants that beat butterfly bush for the wildlife draw.

15 native flowers to help native bees. Further, why we need more native bees and fewer honey bees.

Gardening for climate change.

Many native plants, especially those found in prairie or meadows, will perform worse in rich garden soil. From ASLA.

Where to find native plants in your state.

How to start a native plant garden, from Wild Ones.

Landscaping with native plants, via the Minnesota DNR.


Designing Gardens for Monarchs and More

Native plant garden strategies from Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens.

Garden by ecoregion, not hardiness zone. 

Butterfly gardens 101.

Creating monarch habitat, from Monarch Joint Venture.

What monarch butterflies taught me about garden design.

Gardens must go beyond beauty and address climate change, wildlife loss.


Books to Inspire Sustainable, Ecosystem Wildlife Garden Design

Bringing Nature Home -- Dough Tallamy

Last Child in the Woods -- Richard Louv

Pollinators of Native Plants -- Heather Holm

Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden -- Jessica Walliser

The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden -- Roy Diblik

Taming Wildflowers -- Miriam Goldberger

Field Guide to Wildflowers of Nebraska and the Great Plains -- Jon Farrar


*Your garden is a protest. It is a place of defiant compassion. That space is one to help sustain wildlife and ecosystem function while providing an aesthetic response that moves you. For you, beauty isn't petal deep, but goes down into the soil, further down into the aquifer, and back up into the air and for miles around on the backs and legs of insects. You don't have to see soil microbes in action, birds eating seeds, butterflies laying eggs, ants farming aphids -- just knowing it's possible in your garden thrills you, it's like faith, and it frees you to live life more authentically. Your garden is a protest for all the ways in which we deny our life by denying other lives. Go plant some natives. Be defiantly compassionate.
 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Native Plant Gardens -- Why Are They Sometimes Hard to Embrace?

A native plant landscape is not an attempt to "return to some past, pure nature." That's impossible, especially with climate change (and philosophically it's wrought with ideological problems -- this environmental lit PhD knows). But the wildlife that need native plants and their ecological communities have not gone away -- they certainly can't evolve within decades or even a century to our imported plant gardens. We're doing our best to make the wildlife go away through unprecedented mass extinction, though, and yes primarily in ways beyond our gardens; but our gardens are entry points into those larger ways / landscapes.

I can point to research that shows we'll lose 30% of global plant species in coming decades, that the U.S. has unprecedented losses of songbirds, that kids growing up today will see 35% fewer butterflies and moths than their parents did 40 years ago, that specific native bee species need specific native plant species to complete their reproduction cycle, that one of the most endangered global ecosystems is prairie and that prairie is great at sequestering carbon and creating darn rich soil, yet it doesn't seem to hold sway.

 
Are we too entrenched in what we believe, or where we're from or how we were raised and the inherent values of those circumstances? Are we too far removed from a relationship with nature that doesn't need our hand in it, and thus would redefine our interactions with it? Are we selfish? Are we unwilling or afraid to confront the repercussions of our actions, especially when it comes to private landscapes? In America, are we uncomfortable with gardens having meaning beyond aesthetics or for personal use? How much of our sense of Western entitlement and freedom is at play?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Winter, I Hardly Knew Ye

I'm sad to know the last of the garden's snow will melt away this weekend. I cherish the seasons. I especially cherish winter. There is nothing more profound or connective than sitting outside while the snow falls all around -- it is the most perfect and deep silence that strikes the loudest chord in me. I cherish the cold, the thin air that carries voices and howls beyond their natural reach. I honor the slick ice that glazes berries and seeds. I am humbled by the life that sleeps in every nook and cranny and the life that persists out in the open as I hide in my house. The lesson of winter is lost in the rush of spring and the din of summer -- that to be awake is to live in the echo of every season's glory simultaneously.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Heartbeats and Prairie Wind Are the Same Impulse

Today in two of my English classes we're finishing Linda Hogan's stellar book Dwellings, where she says there are occasions where we can hear the language of the earth -- through water, grasses, etc (but only if we are patient enough to do so). I asked my students if hearing a breeze through corn or prairie grass, or listening to waves on a beach, made them feel peaceful, relaxed, connected. Almost all raised their hands. We watched a video on fractals seeing how every biologic and terrestrial phenomenon is a mathematical equation -- even our heart beats. I wonder if our our hearts carry the same mathematical fractal rhythm as the wind or waves, and if knowing this will make us less apt to harm the world which is us. We are not so separate -- only our desires and misunderstandings make it seem so. Love is simple when you hold still, let go, and fall into life.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Bald Eagle o'Rama

Oh, if only I'd had charged ANY of my DSLR batteries this image would be better. Still, we counted about 45 eagles on Branched Oak Lake the other day; others reported nearly 100 in recent weeks as they fish along the ice's edge.


A record 146 nests were recorded in Nebraska in 2014, with 111 active. Eagles were federally and state endangered as recently as 2008. In less than 25 years baldies have gone from virtually gone  to fairly numerous! See what we can do? Go forth and help life thrive.

Monday, February 16, 2015

We Need 40-80 Acres Now! Help!

Do you know of anything around Lincoln or Omaha? Nursery trends are supporting native plant landscape design and plant purchases, and educating the buyer at the point of sale through more sophisticated and innovative layouts, workshops, and display gardens are tops. These are all in our business plan and model. Add on top of that hosting weddings and artist residencies and maybe farming seed as we engage the community on behalf of prairie and its wildlife, and our dreams seem most promising. The biggest stumbling block is the price of land -- and we'd be open to leasing if we had some mutual guarantees. It could take a few years to get this all revved up, and life is speeding by. Prairie up!


In other news, had a packed house of 120 for my talk this weekend at the most awesome Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center in the Loess Hills of Sioux City, IA. We learned about sustainable, low maintenance garden design using native plants for pollinators -- selfless gardening that's aesthetically sweet for us AND wildlife. Many in this inquisitive and energetic audience remained to speak with me for 45 minutes after the presentation! It was energizing and motivating for me, as I'm sure it was for many others -- I love it when that happens. Say it again -- prairie up.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Garden Thoughts on a Snow Melting Day

"The Benedictine monk Thomas Merton said, “The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.” Merton’s profoundly moral and enactive perspective points to a vision of all of life as interdependent, entangled, and embedded. This vision orients one toward action that is fundamentally unselfish and selfless. This is “principled compassion”; compassion with a clear moral foundation based on courage, love, and positive regard for and respect of all beings and things."

Read more from this powerful piece on living a life of intention that serves our ethical imperatives, and develops defiant compassion. How do we garden in a world of our making? The questions get bigger, as the responses must be, too.  


Sunday, February 1, 2015

It Finally Snowed Impressively!

I am so happy. Being stuck inside a warm home, the wind howling, the trees and stems and spent flowers topped in snow, cardinals dashing from cedar to seed -- it is overwhelmingly gorgeous and energizing. When I get my full measure of each season I feel more complete, more whole, more part of my home. Today I feel a measure of this:

"All through autumn we hear a double voice: one says everything is ripe; the other says everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite. We feel what the Japanese call 'aware'--an almost untranslatable word meaning something like 'beauty tinged with sadness.'" — Gretel Erlich in The Solace of Open Spaces

Pictures of Saturday's sticky 1" of snow, then the last image of what is between 6-8" this morning.






Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Ethics of Care and Place

More and more support for the way our relationshops are changing and must change even more in the natural and built environments. And by extension how our gardens play a key role in this change.

"Our moral vision and imagination are tied to the vocabulary we use. Today the dominant ethical language comes from words like freedom, interests, rights, and justice. The meaning of each of these ideas is keyed to principles or rules rather than to relationships. Is this language inclusive enough to allow for all that needs to be said concerning human responsibilities for flourishing and resilient biotic and civic communities?"

This is exactly why it's so hard to advocate for change in landscape design -- our language is so often inadequate to how we experience the world, and even I might add, to how we respond to it based on our own ethical and moral codes (even if or especially if those codes are right on target -- something misfires between thought and action). Our relationships to nature are so much more visceral.


"[...] beliefs and feelings that lead to human behavior are most often rooted in the lived experience of a specific place, one with particular natural and social characteristics, landscapes, and cultures. To change the way one thinks and feels about a place is to change how one uses and relates to it. An ethical vocabulary adequate to the ecological challenges of our time must have the power to do far more than our current language of freedom, interests, happiness, rights, and justice."

If we use our gardens as places primarily for our own aesthetic experience, doesn't that cast ownership over the landscape which excludes other life from the landscape? That may in fact alienate us from the landscape in deeper, unnoticed ways. Aldo Leopold might think so. When we call a landscape "beautiful" we ascribe value based on personal experiences, judgements, and social / ethnic / economic background. Happiness is not freedom when it excludes the well being of other creatures that also, as it so happens, directly contribute to our literal physical well being in the form of ecosystem services. 

Here's a bit from Steven Sullivan's essay Finding Your Own Passenger Pigeon:

"What I am not content with is the fact that we, as a single and supposedly sapient species, are arbitrarily and ignorantly destroying biodiversity at a rate unprecedented in more than 4.5 billion years. Whether you take the perspective that such biodiversity is the conscious product of a deity’s creation or is the happy accident of amazing natural processes, the destruction is unconscionable. If this rapacious consumption were the result of a single individual’s avarice, perhaps this behavior could be seen to have some kind of justification. But our destruction is not the result of a single person. It is the result of collective decisions: decisions made in the home, the store, and the voting booth; decisions we advertise through our behavior and our bellies. These decisions are not solitary. They affect the world. Your decisions affect me and mine affect you. Daily, even hourly, the news reports how such decisions affect us on a strictly economic basis. Few people are attempting to quantify how such decisions affect us on an ecological basis."

Our gardens matter; they mean so much to ourselves and each other. I'm so thankful for the Ethics of Care and Place from the Center for Humans and Nature. There's another longer piece I want to talk about here in another post -- about the psychology behind ethics and our connection to other species; I'm still unpacking it, but it's jazzed me up!