From My WindowIssue Date: July 15, 2020
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
I recently spent a few days pet-sitting my canine and feline nieces in Madison, when a family emergency called my brother and sister-in-law to Indiana on short notice.
I was happy to be "safer at home" at their house, a change of scenery. Part of my daily activities there is taking Brandi their dog to an off-leash dog park. In order to be sure it was safe and healthy for me, I arrived each morning at 5:30 a.m., resulting in one other human/dog pair the first day, on the second, we had the entire park to ourselves. Excellent social distancing!
While she was busy joyfully running and sniffing, I walked the trails. The park, about ten acres, is well maintained for its purpose. The majority of it is long, prairie-type vegetation with mowed paths all around the edges and wagon-wheeled to the center. Most of it is in one large, chain-link fenced enclosure, but a smaller separate fenced area accommodates the "little ones and seniors/handicapped" dogs. That helps them keep from being run over when the high-energy labs, goldens, setters and God's perfect mutts begin racing around and playing.
As I meandered the trails, I saw a large clump of milkweed being destroyed by hungry Monarch caterpillars. I stopped and watched a while. Our butterflies are in trouble, mainly due to human's aggressive use of pesticides and preference for mowing and clearing weeds. But here in the dog park, no one minds the milkweed. No one will mow it, and it can reseed itself for the use of next year's Monarch crop. As I looked further I saw other wildflowers and fruiting brambles in the un-mowed portions of the park. The city saves money not trying to mow this whole huge area, and the dogs like it better with the natural cover. And clearly, the birds and the insects also like this oasis of natural plants in the middle of Madison. In short, the park is a win-win-win " a rare thing in today's complex world. This is what I didn't recognize before my morning epiphany; a dog park like this one is a spot where God's creatures can thrive.
Compare this to most city parks for humans. The vegetation is sprayed, hacked and mowed to perfection " a lovely sight in the eyes of some; but a sterile wasteland for most birds and insects. Taxpayers fund the maintenance.
We would need a considerable shift of our paradigm to tolerate more natural areas in suburbs and cities.
But if we begin to change our thinking, and be a little more tolerant around "weeds" on our neighbor's property, maybe as a small part of their lawn; the benefit to animals, birds and insects would be immense. We can't, as individuals, solve the enormous problems that have led to the decline of many of our fellow creatures, honeybees and butterflies among them. But some of us do have the latitude to be a champion of "natural areas," even postage-stamp sized ones. It is astonishing to me what Mother Nature can accomplish if we give her an opening, even a very small one, to be her glorious self.
For those of you who tire of the endless chore of maintaining golf-course type lawns, aided by mowers, chemicals and watering; maybe this goal is your cover to do a little less, and help our fellow creatures at the same time. Regimented, mono-culture lawns are part of our culture; but sometimes we can challenge our assumptions and find new, better ways.
Our son and daughter-in-law also share my views. As I was drafting this column, in a highly ironic coincidence, he got a "courtesy warning" from the small municipality he lives in near Tulsa, Oklahoma. His neighborhood has large lots, with his lot and that of many of his neighbors backing up to a creek. Because the creek is subject to widely fluctuating water levels, its banks are natural, with trees, shrubs and plentiful wildlife. Our son chose to stop mowing part of his large lot, letting it turn into natural prairie with wildflowers for pollinators, cover for rabbits and food for birds.
This prompted him to get a "courtesy notice" of non-conformance to rules requiring the "removal of noxious weeds and high grasses." The inspector who sent the letter commented that the area around the house and next to the road was "well-maintained and mowed," but that the natural area must be chopped down to avoid a fine. It is almost a certainty that someone complained to cause this letter. The status quo is hard to change; sometimes championing new thinking can be really difficult.
Of course he will do as requested. There are, I know legitimate reasons to not turn residential areas into little eco-islands. But let's not stop looking for those win-win-wins like the dog park. The world will be the better for it. Less noise, less air pollution, and more of God's creatures.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
Recent stories, opinions and photos