Leave the Leaves, Turn Out the Lights

Most people are aware of the global biodiversity crisis, the shocking declines of insects, birds, and other animals, yet many don’t connect it with life in our comfortable suburbs. Because everything is connected, what we do at home is more important than you might think. Anyone with a house and yard can take two actions that will immediately increase biodiversity by helping the creatures that share our neighborhoods: leave the leaves and turn out the lights.  I’ve never understood why sensible people would remove autumn leaves from under their trees and bushes, only to then pay good money to add mulch and fertilizer. Fallen leaves are nature’s combination fertilizer and mulch, full of exactly the nutrients trees and shrubs need. And regarding “messiness,” nobody walks through the forest preserves in autumn wishing someone would clear out all those darn fallen leaves. Those leaves are what make the outdoors comfortable for many animals, providing shelter, food, and habitat. Fireflies d

Gardeners' Work

In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter,
war spreading, families dying, the world in danger,
I walk the rocky hillside, sowing clover.

The other day, on a glorious green morning, I thought of that poem by poet/essayist/farmer Wendell Berry (bio here and discussion here). The BP gulf oil gusher was continuing (and continues), adding to the dead zone caused in part by nitrates from farmers' fields in my own region; and my daughter had mentioned that a young soldier in Afghanistan she skypes with told her he'd been shot (though safe--protected by his armor), and spoke of the fear that accompanies night missions. Thinking of these things, Berry's words came to mind.

It is one of my favorite poems because it speaks of the work that we gardeners do; and by gardeners I also mean organic farmers, naturalists, biologists, ecologists, conservationists--all those who tend the living earth. Our work is work of peace and work of faith. We create beauty and help things grow, despite war, disaster and despair. We sow seed, with faith that plants will grow, that flowers will be beautiful, that we and our children will eat. We strive to understand other species with whom we share the earth and work to make sure that they, as well as we, have a place. We learn and share our knowledge. This work is sometimes disguised by overt and covert cultural messages, is sometimes subverted by issues of race, class, aesthetics, and politics. Yet it goes on, in all times and all places, helping to mend what has come asunder in the world.

Related Posts: 
(GMO) Alfalfa and Our Future
National Poetry Month in the Garden
Meteorological Winter
Walt Whitman, Deep Ecologist (Poetry Month 2013)


Anonymous said…
Dear Adrian, I was most moved to read this very thought provoking posting. However, you are right for although we appear to be surrounded by disaster, there is always room for hope and that hope is so often to be found in the work we as individuals do in our gardens.

And, Adrian, thank you so much for your very kind comment left on my 'Explanatory Note'. It was most thoughtful of you and much appreciated. Thank you too for your comment on my latest posting and to which I have replied.
Hello Edith Hope, Thanks for visiting, and glad you are posting again.
Anonymous said…
Adrian, Thanks for these thoughts. The idea that, in gardening, I am somehow helping to restore balance to the world fills me with a sense of peace. -Jean
Adrian, thank you for this post! I agree with what Edith and Jean wrote here. Sometimes, however, I look at the situation differently: we are in war, our soldiers are dying, but we are admiring our gardens, watching sports, dancing... Are we getting used to disasters? .....
Thank you so much for your comment on my poetry post. That feeling of yours might be very true. I heard long ago that great poetry, great music, etc. are born in countries where there is suffering.It is a complicated subject... Anyway, I appreciate your thought! Happy teaching and happy gardening to you!I am going to check the links which you posted.
Jean, I've found gardening helps people stay balanced, too.

and Tatyana, hope you enjoyed reading about Wendell Berry.
Anonymous said…
Wendell Berry's poem is no more touching or poetic than your prose,which reminds us to hold close our earth connections and our hope. Thank you for both.
Benjamin Vogt said…
Yes Yes Yes!!! Nicely said!
Unknown said…
Thank you for this moving post, Adrian. It is one of my favorite postings I've read . . . on any site.
M., Benjamin and Thomas, I am humbled by your praise. Thank you.