Monday night was the first night since sometime last fall when we slept with the windows open. This, a mere two weeks after we recovered from a weekend blizzard. Nature, indifferent as always to our preferences, does what she wants. And she changes her responses as we change our consumption of her products or our interaction with a living presence we understand very little.
So just give up any idea of control already. Open those windows, listen.
Yesterday, I worked at our dining room table, heard a mourning dove cooing. Wind chimes, which I hung back up over the weekend, harmonized with each breeze’s nudge. Other birds – finches, chickadees, sparrows, blue jays, robins, crows, cardinals – twittered, chirped, flitted all over the yard. The open patio door offered better music than anything else I could think of.
While that back yard broadcast continued, I read a section of Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education (New York: Grove Press, 1991) and thought about our looming yard work. We are gardeners in this house, constantly shifting borders around flowers beds, adding native plants when we find something we love, thinking about the bees and birds, wondering whether deer will tromp through the yard this year (last year, they decided the garden behind our garage was a breakfast buffet). But yard work isn’t why I’m reading this book. The ideas about nature, gardening, and the intersection of wilderness and culture are why I’m reading this book. The section I focused on yesterday talked about what happens when we use different metaphors to define trees: Are they big weeds in a farm field? Are they beings upon which we might bestow rights? Are they gods? Are they providers of essential products and, thus, an important part of our economy? And what happens when an area deemed as wilderness must be managed in some way after a natural disaster destroys its trees?
Is there really such a thing as virgin wilderness anymore? Mankind has been on earth for long enough to have altered everything.
Which then brought me back to our own back yard. What is our responsibility in this era of accelerated climate change when we look at the small patch of earth for which we might care? How do we manage our little yards so they welcome the very creatures that make growing sources of food as well as beauty possible – the bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects, the birds who carry seeds, the squirrels who plant enough nuts that the ones they forget about become trees?
Those were pretty big questions for a day when I originally just wanted to celebrate having open windows once again. But I think they are important ones for anyone who has a yard, who has to mow their grass, who cares for a garden.
We can be responsible to the earth in all kinds of ways on a personal level – reusable shopping bags, less plastic, high-mileage vehicles, attention to what is getting wasted. But when we throw open the windows in the spring and listen to all the activity right outside our doors, the living, breathing pieces of what surrounds us makes music that cannot be ignored. And we realize we are but one section in an enormous symphony.
We need to do our part, and do it well.