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  • Writer's pictureljmarkson

Nature Loving Strangers are Kindred Spirits

I was recently looking through my lengthy list of ongoing blog ideas and catchy titles for articles yet to be written and came across entire posts I had abandoned for some reason. One I vaguely remember writing caught my eye because it resonated with where my head is lately. I just added some photos to it and am posting it below as written. It wasn't dated in my files, but I must have typed this two or so years ago because the neighbors I mention moved a year ago and an Eastern phoebe started visiting my yard last summer and nested somewhere nearby this year. (Below is a little fledgling in a front yard tree in early May). The following is the post:

This morning I met a woman at my local community garden in a 13-acre nature park that was once a brown field and is now a biodiverse oasis of native plants and wildlife. She seemed to be enjoying the surroundings and when I introduced myself, she replied that she has a plot at a nearby garden also in a local park. While we were talking two Eastern phoebes landed just a few feet away from us and stayed long enough to make sure we weren’t honing in on their territory. The woman once lived in my neighborhood before moving with her husband to a home with two acres and an old growth forest on it in a neighborhood just a little farther out. She had an Eastern phoebe who befriended her and her husband and even built a nest on their porch. Phoebes like to build their nests close to roofs, but I still haven’t seen one in my yard – maybe because they like to nest near wooded areas and water. Phoebes are also flycatchers so the ongoing efforts put into exterminating insects all around me can’t help.

When I wrote this I rarely ever saw phoebes in my yard, but in late April this year, I watched an industrious phoebe pulling off strips of natural matter from native vines from the previous year for her nest.

My new nature friend now lives in a retirement community backing up to a large natural area, so nature is still in her backyard. She asked if I knew who Doug Tallamy was, and we were off to the races sharing our love of nature and native plants for almost two hours! We’re both concerned about the disconnect between many young homeowner’s environmental awareness about global challenges and the kinds of inexplicable destruction they do to their own yard ecosystem once they buy homes. We agreed education and resources for creating a more sustainable habitat yard is the key to stopping generational habitat destruction.

This kind of outdated lawn aesthetic still rules in my part of the world, even with younger people moving in and just starting out.

I listed the ways I try convincing others to nurture wildlife habitat in their yards with my blog, social media posts, and a nature center kiosk. She revealed that she’s put together a presentation based on Tallamy’s work and has the idea to offer to present it in her church community where there are many young families.

I've updated my little Nature Center kiosk with information about gardening classes, native plant nurseries, water smart landscaping, habitat friendly landscape designers, and even removable butterfly tattoos for any kids who peak in.

She causally dropped the fact that she once had lunch with Doug Tallamy and he indicated that although annuals do provide nectar, native shrubs and trees are the main attractions for sustaining the butterfly population and local food web. I didn’t know this but knew they were the key to offering protection for nesting and foraging birds (like phoebes) so I’ve already added dozens of native shrubs and trees around my yard to create more green density.

Even though my rewilded yard is small, I've added a few oak trees to support the food web in my yard and for future generations to enjoy.

I shared how my neighbors on one side are so openly hostile to me because of my efforts to protect my rewilded yard from them. She insisted I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book Prodigal Summer because my situation is similar to the organic agriculture enthusiast Nannie Rawlie in the book with neighbors being similar to the traditional farmer Garnett Walker in the story. I like Barbara Kingsolver, but haven’t read this book so I added it to my reading list. When I came home, I looked up the book and there was a line Nannie said to Garnett that could have come out of my mouth: "Everything alive is connected to every other by fine, invisible threads. Things you don't see can help you plenty, and things you try to control will often rear back and bite you”.

I made this a few years ago before the neighbor's in the photo on the left moved (new owners have same sensibility so it looks pretty much the same). The difference in how we view our job as custodians of our piece of earth is obvious. Note the shrubs in the front yard on the left are intentionally planted lime green Chinese privet!

It feels isolating to be a voice for nature surrounded by a sea of traditionally landscaped yards of lawns, ornamental non-natives, and services coming daily to kill life. I sometimes pause when I realize I’ve become the crazy local nature lady. Luckily, I’m just about at the age where I care little about how others perceive me. Meeting like-minded friends for a moment in time who immediately get everything without me having to explain anything reminds me I’m not alone and gives a little inspiration to continue down this path.

When your yard looks like this in a neighborhood filled with turf, English ivy, and nandina, it's hard to appreciate how many other people are also working to help nature where they live or that the tide IS slowly turning towards a more nature friendly way of landscaping.

*Footnote - The fact that Eastern phoebes have started nesting in or near my naturescaped yard since I first wrote this and filed it away is evidence of how much we can impact our local ecosystem no matter how small our yard.

This photo of a young phoebe in late May is undoubtedly one of the babies of the phoebe pulling nesting material from dead vines on this same trellis in April. It's all related.. The system works if we just let it.

Note: There are no affiliate links in this blog. Please click the highlighted text throughout the post for links to references, details, explanations, worthy organizations or businesses, or examples that I think might be helpful.

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