Monday, March 16, 2009

Deciding What Nature To Bring Home

It's usually hard to find the silver lining in back pain, but a few days of incapacitation caused me to glance over at the bedside table and notice a book that had been waiting patiently there for nearly a year. Bringing Nature Home, it's called, by an entomologist named Douglass Tallamy, and inside its cover is a more meaningful journey than I had been managing of late with all powers of mobility intact.

What does a scholar of the insect world have to tell us about our own? Take for instance the decisions many homeowners are making this time of year about what new plants to bring into the garden. We usually make these decisions based on what looks pretty, what will grow to the right size, what will provide privacy or hide an unwanted view.

All of these qualities matter, but if one´s seeking meaning in a garden beyond pleasing views, Tallamy provides as good a guide as any to how your garden can either shun the local ecology or become an integral part thereof. In so doing, he provides answers to some basic questions like the difference between native and exotic plants, and the ecological consequences of planting one or the other. Establish enough of these building blocks of understanding in your thinking, and you´ll begin to see how decisions made about backyard plantings will help determine the fate of many species of wildlife that are becoming ever more marginalized. Each of us in our own small way has the power.

As my back pain (negative but instructive) and the accelerating local initiative to make Princeton more sustainable (highly positive) began mixing with Tallamy´s narrative, I started developing a Unified Theory that would finally explain the hidden connections between nature, local economies, and the ecology of back muscles. All of this may come out in subsequent posts, along with the answer to the question, How is an exotic plant like an unplugged solar panel?

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