Two years ago, when my partner Mick decided to dig up the portion of our backyard where our raised beds stood and sow wildflower seeds, I thought he was just having some fun. He loves to garden. He loves to grow things he hasn’t grown before. He loves to expand our garden and reshape it. He loves to watch birds swoop in and swipe seeds from spent flowers at the end of the summer.
What I had not foreseen was how this particular wildflower garden, just now completing its second season, would change our backyard from a standard urban lot to a tiny wildlife refuge. Maybe Mick did think about this. Maybe that was always in the back of his mind as he nudged this space around our house into an ever-wilder area.
We’ve both been concerned about the environment and damage from pesticides and fertilizers for a long time. The diminished bee population and its implications for food production everywhere scares us. The fact that using weed killers and insecticides in a small yard allows those chemicals to cast a wider net of damage than many people realize is uppermost in our decisions about what we use in the yard. (If you want to learn more about garden chemicals and bees, visit BuzzAboutBees.net.) We agreed from the moment we moved into our house in 1997 that we would plant native plants, be mindful of how we control invasive species, and not water the grass constantly. If a plant couldn’t survive in our yard without chemical assistance or copious amounts of extra water, it didn’t belong here. If it was good for bees and birds and other living things, then we welcomed it.
All that time and patience is paying off. This autumn, our tiny bit of cultivated land has erupted into an active spot for feeding all kinds of creatures. That wildflower garden was abuzz all summer long with several kinds of bees, and bright flowers we had to look up to identify. Now that the weather has turned colder and the flowers have gone to seed, birds are constantly flitting in and out of the garden, beaks stuffed with seeds, little round bellies full of the autumn feast. The birch trees that we got from our next-door neighbor years ago are now grown tall right next to the wildflowers and are full of finches, with an occasional junco, every morning. They gather on each branch, eating their fill of seeds.
And other animals have come in to feast. We had rabbits all over our yard this year, but we didn’t notice any particular damage to flowers that we planted next to the house because we had such a big wildflower garden that they could eat and eat and eat. Squirrels have been everywhere, too, in this yard that has plenty of places to hide nuts and seeds. There were foxes who meandered through in the night, who feasted on the rabbits; we found bits of fur and bone strewn around the yard more than once. There was a deer who came and rested beneath our spruce, chewing cud, ears flicking.
Our backyard has turned into a place for all kinds of living things, our own outdoor classroom that shows us what how abundance appears when we care deeply about how we feed everybody – bees, bunnies, butterflies, flowers, grasses, foxes, deer, ourselves. Everyone is welcome at this backyard banquet.
This is the kind of abundance I want inside my house, too. The abundance that seems to multiply again and again once we open our doors and invite others in to share what we have. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, about how there is a sense that our country cannot be a welcoming place, that we have to close our borders and push away those who are hungry, who are tired, who are scared and in need. There is a sense that we cannot afford to feed everyone, that we will suffer if we let in too many people, that turning them away is the only reasonable thing to do for our country’s economic health. Let the refugees’ country of origin fix things. Or let them find somewhere else.
This harsh reasoning makes me crazy, contradicts what I was taught growing up. Our Statue of Liberty was supposed to be the beacon of hope that welcomed everyone to our shores, but that idea is gasping for air, barely able to survive right along with those who flee horrible situations in their countries. I think about these people as I consider my own family, my own luck, my own ability to share.
And the path is getting clearer all the time: abundance flows out of caring actions. The health of all is improved when we take care of each other, when we share our food and water and other resources so that all may be safe and fed. When we take the time to learn from each other instead of opposing each other. When we stop being afraid that sharing is going to diminish what we have instead of adding to our overall community. We have this one earth, we are all connected whether we want to believe it or not.
Competition for resources is a scary thing. But human beings have reasoning skills that could develop creative solutions to sustainable societies, shake up old ideas about borders and handouts versus sharing and thriving. One way to start is to look at what we can do in our own backyards. And then open our front doors.
All photos by kcmickelson 2018