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Cities and Wilderness, and Beauty

 [info]ysabetwordsmith  in a post titled Cities and Nature, Ugliness and Fear, provided a link to an essay called “Ugly” by Dave Pollard.

I think that essay is more than a bit extreme. It made me feel sad for Mr. Pollard. Of course, the passages about the beauty of a natural ecology I agree with wholeheartedly. And I (with my many allergies and sensitivities to chemicals) also find that I’m healthier away from the pollutants that are so prevalent in cities, despite the fact that mammals (excepting only humans) and birds and pollens and molds are allergens for me. I wholeheartedly love all of the wilderness locales I’ve had the privilege to visit.

But I also feel, very strongly, that improvement to the quality of life for people—and for that matter, for wilderness—means that we must start by finding the beauty that is already in cities, and nurture it, feed it, celebrate it. And, to the extent that we can, turn it into a healthier and more beautiful place.

I have a relatively large bit of land in a city, which we have been planting with tulips and irises, roses and lillies and wildflowers, morning glories and purple coneflower, hibiscus and honeysuckle, mints and melisssa (lemon balm), purple ruffles basil, chives and sage. A few vegetables (purple “green beans”). Lillies of the valley, wood violets, red clover, dandelions. We have an old mulberry tree and a couple of new ones, and a pair of beautiful Rowans. An ancient Lilac and some very young ones. A young Oak. A compost pile, which is fed the leaves of many neighborhood trees after they’ve been mulch for the roses over-winter, and grass clippings, table scraps, and weeds. One year we let a huge thistle grow in our yard, and had finches (even goldfinches). We’ve seen possums and raccoons, butterflies and even dragonflies. Not everything works as planned; we tried to plant milkweed for the butterflies, but haven’t seen any sprout; we brought in preying mantis eggs; the egg cases hatched shortly before several days of huge windstorm and we haven’t seen any. But the egg cases did hatch, so the critters could still be out there, somewhere. This year, we have chicken hawks nesting in the neighborhood, which may be why we haven’t seen much in the way of finches or other small birds.  And the squirrels that had been trying to dig into our eaves have been keeping to the trees (yay!). Dig into the ground and there are worms, and sometimes beetles. Pull weeds around the roses, and you may find a spider guarding her egg-ball.

It doesn’t stop at our property line. I’m told that when the roses are blooming, you can smell our yard two blocks away. I’ve pulled up mint that invaded the roses, and given it to neighbors to grow. (The mint that invaded the lawn just gets mowed—what a glorious scent!) An oak that came up in my hand, acorn still attached to the root in an early Spring weeding survived being potted, and was given away as well, to be planted...somewhere. Last year we were the only house in the neighborhood with fireflies; this year the whole neighborhood has them. And the birds have been dropping morning glory seeds—this year, I see them amongst the roses in the front yard, so I can only wonder where they’ll show up next year.

I’ve been working a lot on the inside of the house lately, so I haven’t been writing much about the outside, but I’m pretty pleased with the tiny ecology that now blooms there.

So, in response to that essay, I feel the strong need to say, we don’t have to let our urban yards be only bare lawns and gray sidewalks. We don’t have to let our cities be ugly and unhealthy. But if we think of them as irredeemable, we won’t put in the effort to make our small plots of land, our buildings, and our lives, beautiful.

As a last thought, I also want to share CJ Cherryh’s words, as best I remember them from a long-ago Chicago con, that if we value nature at all, if we want any wild spaces to survive, we need cities. If people were all spread out, there would be no wild places left at all.


Creative Joyous Cat

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