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A much larger flock of Red-winged Blackbirds than visited my backyard feeders!
Photo: Montana Naturalist

A much larger flock of Red-winged Blackbirds than visited my backyard feeders! Photo: Montana Naturalist

Come! The Blackbirds Are Calling!

Dear March - Come in -
How glad I am -
I hoped for you before -
Put down your Hat
You must have walked
How out of Breath you are…

From Dear March, Come In by Emily Dickinson

 

I first penned this post in early March as it seemed like spring was on its way. Daylight Savings Time had just happened and Redwing Blackbirds were showing up in my yard at my bird feeders. Since then of course, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now, those of us who can are sheltering in place in our homes. Many are facing lost incomes. We are all (hopefully) practicing social distancing, washing our hands and decontaminating surfaces. I hope you are able to get out for walks in nature as you can and the weather permits. Whatever our position, now is the time we can all benefit from the reduction in stress that results if we give ourselves the time.

Perhaps this down time will also give you an opportunity to do some more reading and learning that you’ve always wanted to do or spend even more time outdoors. If temperatures are nice, there might even be time to get out in the garden. So, sit back and read on…

One thing I’ve noticed is that as spring approaches, I’ve been getting more lawn care advertisements in the mail. You know, the ones that propose multiple visits per season applying herbicides (weed killers) and/or fertilizers, and grub control. Grubs are the larval stage of several different beetles. While some truly are introduced problem species, the “June Bug” for example is native to Illinois and elsewhere in the U.S. So something we see as a “pest” can actually be something that belongs here; that is food for birds and other wildlife.

As you think about whether to follow through with grub control think about the other insects the spend part of their life cycle below ground (some native bees are an example), and remember that the insecticides that we apply on our lawns do not discriminate between good and “bad” species. Haven’t seen as many fireflies during the summer? Part of their life cycle is also spent in the ground as a larva.

As I think about it, I am confounded by the amount of time, money and chemicals we pour into caring for our lawns, while at the same time searching for the “no maintenance” garden. I’m curious as to why we do not equate the two. We seem to have an amazing ability to compartmentalize and separate issues that are all connected.

Recently I’ve been trying to tackle reading Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells, deputy editor of New York Magazine. Wallace-Wells writes frequently about climate and other science and technology-related topics. The book was published after an article by him under the same title went viral in 2017. The information he has assembled for the book from numerous, numerous sources is difficult to take in large doses and frightening to me in its totality. But I found it a real wake-up call and recommend it.

Wallace-Wells does not describe himself as someone into “nature” as cause for his authoring the publication. In fact, in a recent February 2019 Vox interview, Wallace-Wells said this, “…I think one of the great lessons of climate change is that even those of us like me who grew up over the last few decades living in the modern world, in cities, and felt the whole time that we had sort of built our way out of nature. And that while there were things to be concerned about, with regard to climate, and other environmental issues, I still had this deep belief that we had built a fortress around ourselves that would protect us against a hostile world.

I felt that even if climate change unfolded quite rapidly, those impacts would be felt far away from where I lived, and the way I lived.

As he researched and compiled the data, however, he came to a different appreciation. He goes on to say “…I think, especially with the extreme weather that we’re seeing over the last couple of years, we’re all beginning to relearn the fact that we live within nature, and in fact all of our lives are governed by its forces. None of us, no matter where we live, will be able to escape the consequences of this.”

We live within nature; all our lives are governed by its forces… A simultaneously profound and yet simple statement. A photo included in the review of the book in The Guardian is – to me - descriptive of the disconnect I see in so many ways around me. Can we just stand by and say this is all fiction? This is all a natural cycle we can do nothing about?

It is so hard to know what to do in the face of the immensity of the problem, but our small voice, our simple actions, can have meaning. As part of my interest in the book, I recently attended a panel discussion moderated by the author. If I heard any easy answers from the distinguished panel of experts that were assembled I would tell you. Unfortunately I did not.

But I did hear this – four ways in which if even only 10-15% of the population did them, we could make a difference in reducing carbon emissions. Whether or not you believe the looming climate crisis is human-induced, these feel like simple steps we can try to take in our lives as we are able, to help stave off warming temperatures and the world that will result for our children.

  • Source your home energy from renewable sources
  • Reduce your food waste; recycle what you can and compost the rest
  • Eat more of your caloric intake from plant-based foods
  • If you can, buy an electric vehicle for your next car

I’ve got the third bullet down and at least drive a hybrid. Looks like I need to keep working at it! How are you doing?

I encourage you to find ways to live kindly on this earth and – in doing so – find you are becoming part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Bringing more native plants into your yard also helps you to be part of the solution both in storing carbon in their root systems and in providing food resources and habitat. As one of the panelists said, “Every single one of us has something to contribute.”

I also encourage you to be kind to each other in this difficult time of living through this pandemic. We are all hoping all of you and your families and your extended families come through this safely.

 

References

How to choose and when to apply grub control products for your lawn. Michigan State University Extension Office, April 13, 2018.  
(not that I’m recommending this, I just want you to have good information!)

David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. Guardian Book Review. 

Scientists Explain what New York Magazine article on “The Uninhabitable Earth” gets wrong. From Climate Feedback.
A 2017 critique of Wallace-Wells’ New York article that preceded the book publication.

It is absolutely time to panic about climate change. From Vox 2019. A counter to 2017 criticisms.

U.S. EPA, Reducing Wasted Food At Home. 

Illinois Environmental Council, Renewable Energy. 

Department of Energy, Buying Clean Electricity. 

Forbes. How to Smoothly Transition to a Plant-based Diet. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nomanazish/2018/11/30/how-to-smoothly-transition-to-a-plant-based-diet/#2c7678ff50dc

If you need more information about the coronavirus and haven’t taken time to read yet:

Centers for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov

Coronavirus Resource Center, Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/