Not Man Apart

“We can no longer afford to consider air and water common property, free to be abused by anyone without regard to consequences. Instead we should begin now to treat them as scarce resources, which we are no more free to contaminate than we are free to throw garbage into our neighbor’s yard.”                                            

~ President Richard Nixon, 1970 State of the Union address.

More and more it seems that we are confronting the fact that we humans are part of a larger community. We think of our neighbors and the places we shop or work and the people that inhabit those places as our places, our community.

We are concerned with the workings of our street and neighbors — don’t mow before 7 am (but do mow it occasionally), don’t play loud music at night, and don’t let your dog poop in my front yard. At work, we want our co-workers to keep the office kitchen clean, not steal our lunch from the shared fridge, be on time for meetings and don’t break the copy machine without calling the repair guy.

But we also consider the general environment as a part of our community. We want the yards to be kept up, sidewalks swept, the trees and bushes maintained, the dogs’ and cats’ attacks on squirrels or rabbits minimized, and the bird feeders kept filled. The nature side of our community is one of the comforts of our home that makes us feel safe and secure.

But that idea also applies to our shopping and work experiences. Large concrete jungles do not make for comfort, but exacerbate noise, pollution and the hectic pace of urban life. Douglas Tallamy writes, “… sense of place — the personal feeling of identity, comfort and special meaning that certain places hold for us that other places do not.” Somehow, we want to feel a part of the places we inhabit.

Humans are a part of the larger ecosystem, but we have historically tried to separate ourselves and have created imbalance in the systems. Tallamy notes, “Like machines, ecosystems run more smoothly, longer, and more productively when they contain all of their parts.” Nature without humans or humans without nature are incomplete systems. Tallamy goes on, “Wherever and whenever we can, we must reassemble the coevolved relationships between plants and animals and among animals themselves that enable ecosystems to produce the life support systems we all need.”

I relish my time at home when I can sit at the window or on the patio and listen to the birds and the breeze in the trees. Our yard and neighborhood offer me a sense of place, where I can relax and recharge.

That feeling needn’t be limited to time at home. Even the most urbanized areas can be created in a way that includes nature. Before I retired, my office park had small patches of vegetation and short, new trees, but rabbits were common in the parking lots and meager lawns. Watching them cavort or nibble peacefully helped to calm me down during hectic days. The park- and tree-lined roads helped me maintain my sanity during daily commutes. My town has replaced some downtown curb-side parking with planters containing flowers and small trees that can make even shopping for necessities more pleasant. 

So, how can we make nature more a part of our overall urban and suburban communities? Tallamy has some ideas:

  • Shrink the lawn
  • Be generous with your plantings
  • Plant for specialist pollinators
  • Network with neighbors
  • Build a conservation hardscape
  • Create caterpillar pupation sites under your trees
  • Do not spray or fertilize
  • Educate you neighborhood civic association (if you have one)

We all, human and nature alike, need clean air, clean water, sustenance and community. Tallamy has a goal: “We will create a sustainable balance between humans and other earthlings … and we will do it by living with nature instead of apart from it … We must replace our current ‘humans or nature’ mentality with a new ‘humans and nature’ ethic.”

Now that’s something I can be part of.

Additional information:

Douglas W. Tallamy, Natures Best Hope, 2019

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