As advocates of gardens based on native plants and wildlife habitat, as gardeners passionate about restoring nature nearby, we’re not in the mainstream. So it’s critical to stop now and then, and remember the heart of why we do what we do. Especially in these times when global climate change is already causing tremendous instability in the weather, and thus tremendous hardship for so many—including last week’s destructive “derecho” windstorm in the Northeast, and the drought-fueled wildfires in the inland West.
Here’s an excerpt from a post on my personal blog looking at the way what happens to our beloved landscapes is connected to our daily lives and our spirits:
You have to get over the color green.
Wallace Stegner’s advice about how to live sustainably in the inland West is not a suggestion. You won’t survive, he says, in these largely arid expanses between the 100th Meridian and the relatively well-watered West Coast, if your soul requires green.
Especially this year; especially in the Southwest and the Southern Rockies, where last winter’s snow pack–the source of our summer water–was so sparse as to be scary, and spring heated up so quickly even that paltry moisture simply vanished.
Which is why we have more wildfires burning in Colorado right now than I can ever remember. Two of those fires are the most destructive in Colorado’s history in terms of homes burned, the 87,000+ acre High Park Fire west of Fort Collins, which burned 259 homes and cabins, and the 18,000+ acre Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs, which blew right into the uphill edge of the city and torched 346 homes.
I feel as tattered and worn as the tiger swallowtail butterfly in the photo above, which looks like it has been through heck and back, its tails and the lower edges of its wings broken off, and the scales completely rubbed away in several places.
The landscapes I love are hurting in this drought, and that hurts me to. I can water the native grassland and wildflowers in my yard sparingly to keep them alive, but I can’t water the mountainsides around my valley. I can only watch helplessly as mountain meadows usually green at this time of year turn brown, as the evergreen foliage of the pinon pines and junipers on the nearby hillsides begins to dull, as the streams and the green band of riparian vegetation they nurture shrink.
We’ve received less than three inches of total precipitation in the first six-plus months of the year. That’s not enough to keep alive the living communities that animate these landscapes–from microscopic soil inhabitants to black bears and towering ponderosa pines, from rustling willows to lithe trout. These landscapes have survived long droughts before, including the decades of drought in the late 1100s that were a factor in causing the Ancestral Puebloan people to move from cliff dwellings like those of Mesa Verde to more reliable water sources along the region’s major rivers. But I’m guessing that survival wasn’t easy, or pretty.
As I watch the landscapes I love wither in this extraordinary drought, I grieve the losses. For the company we humans are losing as each individual, and in some cases, whole populations of plants and animals, die out. For the homes burned in the wildfires. If this is global climate change, I hate it already.
How do we survive times like thes? I know that I turn to nature, be it ever so beleaguered by drought and fire, and look for the grace notes–like that tattered tiger swallowtail, the brilliant indian paintbrush blossoms, or this morning’s setting full moon, rosy-cheeked from wildfire smoke, but still beautiful–signaling that life manages to thrive despite all.
Those small miracles remind me that joy lives on; I only have to pay attention and let it in.
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