Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Suburban Safari

The other week, when we were at his favorite nature center, G/Son & I saw a display about this book.

Who knew that an investigation into that patch of grass in the backyard could be so fruitful - and so funny?

More than 550 square miles of new lawns unfold each year in the U.S. alone. Although new research shows that these lawns aren't nearly as "unnatural" as ecologists once thought, no one has offered an accessible exploration of this novel habitat - until now.

Equipped with a lawn chair and her infectious curiosity, Hannah Holmes spends a year in her yard, hoping to discover exactly what's going on out there.

Bill McKibben said:

It's . . . a very important book--a graceful and forceful reminder that the natural world is everywhere all around us, to be savored and to be protected."
Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

Don't let the word "suburban" (which has become quite the red-headed-step-child of modern thinking) turn you off. The process of observation that Ms. Holmes describes is as valid for a bit of urban park, a stretch of weeds alongside the interstate, a container garden on an urban apartment balcony, as it is for a suburban lawn or a patch of rural meadowland. This would be a great book to read with bright middle school-age children. And it's a great book for parents and grandparents to read as they attempt to help their beloved children come into relationship with nature.

It really doesn't matter how incredibly urban your environment (your beloved child's environment) may be. NRDC recently sent out an email describing a wildlife refuge accessible by public transportation from New York City, a refuge from which the Empire State Building is clearly visible.

At the heart of this special place is a wildlife refuge, the only one of its kind in the national park system. But the true wonder of it is that it is in New York City, my hometown.

I am speaking of Jamaica Bay, which sits at the southern intersection of Brooklyn and Queens—so close to me I can get to it by public transit. My web design firm works with an NPS partner organization, the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy, so that is another point of connection for me.

Within Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, you can hike wooded trails, kayak through wetlands and do world-class bird-watching. Some 330 bird species have been observed there—20% of North America's total. And you don't need to know a sandpiper from a tern to enjoy the spectacle.

Birds are not all. Jamaica Bay is home to 60 species of butterfly and 80 species of fish, as well as reptiles, amphibians and small mammals. Every spring diamondback terrapins crawl up on the beach to lay their eggs. The horseshoe crabs also come ashore to mate and dig nests, as I have witnessed myself on a guided walk with park rangers.

This sanctuary for humans and wildlife is like another world. And yet, from certain spots, the Empire State Building is clearly visible in the distance. The "A" train periodically rattles across a bridge (yes, that storied train of song) and planes from nearby JFK Airport rise overhead.

A half-an-hour on Google should yield several places you can access with your beloved child.

It is still unclear what the future holds for Jamaica Bay, but the prospects have begun to look brighter. From your vantage, wherever you reside, it may not seem to matter much. Jamaica Bay will never match the majesty of the great wild places that you dream of visiting one day. But Jamaica Bay is in a city where millions of people live—and can be visited any day. That, in a nutshell, is the beauty of it.

The term "Pagan" comes from the Latin word "paganus" which means "country dweller", or "rustic." But, today, most Pagans live in urban environments. We've got, I'm begging you, on my knees, we've got to get our kids in touch with nature, wherever they live. Especially, I think, when they live in the suburbs and the cities.

What will you do? When will you do it? Don't make the perfect the enemy of the good. What can you do this weekend? Will you do it? What else will you be doing that's more important?

Spiral Scouts can often help.

Picture found here.

No comments: