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Life as performance Art

    About a week ago, on a hot and humid afternoon, I was doing some work on the lawn and gardens. I was close to the sidewalk when a couple of visitors to town paused and commented on the amount of upkeep a lawn and garden requires.  I agreed.  Then the woman said, “It looks so nice.  Too bad you still have all so much more to do to make it look good.”
   I do not know if she was commiserating with me or hinting that I was a slacker, but it did not go over very well.  I didn’t want to get nasty about it, so I leaned on the rake, pulled out my pipe, and explained.  “Well, you see, it’s not really weedy. It’s intentional.  We are re-wilding that area to provide food and cover for the birds and smaller animals.  We think that is important for the environment.  One day we might be able to get on the federal micro nature preserve list.”
    Suddenly their attitude changed.  In their minds, I went from being a careless landscaper to a preservationist and protector of pollinators, birds, and assorted critters.
    It was all a big fib; just one of those grandiose ideas that zipped from my brain straight to my mouth without any filter.  As for this federal micro nature preserve business – it does not exist.  Or, if it does exist, I’ve never heard of it.
    They went on their way, probably congratulating themselves on meeting such a wise and caring man.
    That conversation stayed with me for a while, particularly the part about rewilding a section of our lawn and gardens.  I aspire to having it look like the Luxemburg Gardens in Paris. For years I have been doing everything to make it look ‘civilized’ and weed-free, with dead branches cut and hauled to the street, and the shrubs cultivated and shaped.  For the most part, I have almost, kind-a, sort-a kept up with it, but the last couple of years have been a challenge and it magically rewilded on its own.
    Maybe that is a good thing, creating a micro nature preserve.  It reminded me that I had not spent much time cleaning the dried plants from kamikaze insects off the windshield of my car.  Like my father before me, that used to be a regular activity every time I stopped at a gas station, and then again when we got home.  It has been a long time since I used a sponge to clean off dried bug stuff off the grill, too.  Not that I mind, because it was a highly over-rated experience.  Still, it seemed rather strange that we do not have to do it anymore.
   Remember those old-fashioned electric bug zappers from a few decades ago?  Every time a mosquito touched the screen there was a popping sound.  When a June bug or beetle was zapped, the sound was loud enough to be heard a block away, especially on a quiet night.  We have a smaller version that doesn’t zap them.  I plugged it in sometime in April, and until this year, about once a month have to empty the container  that holds the carcasses. This year it is still nearly empty.
    Probably we will just chalk it up to climate change and leave it at that.  Maybe there is another reason.
  Then, a few days ago, just after we had a rainstorm, I went out for a pre-dawn walk and noticed something important that is missing this year.  I did not see a single earthworm on the sidewalk.  Of course, the robins might have gotten there right after the rain stopped to eat them all, but that was unlikely.  It was too early for them to answer the breakfast gong.  I thought about it and realized I have not seen robins patrolling the lawns, pausing, and then extracting a meal from the dirt.  Nor had I seen a single worm I when I turned the soil of our vegetable garden, and there are no little red worms in my compost pile.
   That led to a visit to Maggie Baker Conklin, a doctor of naturopathy, owner of Ladyhawk in Douglas, and weekly columnist for the Commercial Record.  I have discovered she is the go-to person on things like this.  She had a reasonable answer, and this time it was not climate change.
   All of the fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides that we use on our lawns and gardens is the probable cause of insect and worm death.  It is even worse in the big farm fields.  We bump off the weeds in our garden, we spray to get rid of the mosquitoes and ticks, but the poison does not discriminate against the “good” insects.  She suggested thinking of it in terms of the bad old days when we liberally used DDT and did tremendous harm to the American Bald Eagle and most of the raptors.  If this continues and there are no worms, it will be “Silent Spring” all over again.  Silent, because no self-respecting robin is going to take up a summer residence where there is not a steady supply of food.  That applies to many other birds and pollinators, too.
    She believes the main culprit is Round-Up, in all of its variations.  There are other herbicides and insecticides that are just as lethal, but Round-Up is the biggest and best known, which means it is probably responsible for the most damage.  Maggie also added that there are huge swaths of once productive farmland all across the country that is best described as “dead dirt” that may lead us straight into another 1930’s style Dustbowl.
    Mags also pointed out that some people are starting to buy boxes of mail order worms for their garden.  On a parallel to that, over the past decade, more and more bee-keepers are spending upwards of a hundred dollars for a box of bees for their hives.  Insecticides and mites have taken their toll, and each year they have to replace the supply.
    There is some positive news, and I believe it is a good reason for rewilding.  On Memorial Day, I heard a program on a Michigan Public radio station about how “citizen scientists” are assisting with the scientific research on bird migration and population.  One fellow wrote that he and his family had rewilded part of their property, beginning with the removal of all non-native and invasive plants.  Two years later their bird population had greatly increased.
      Others have dedicated a portion of their garden to planting wildflowers that attract bees and other pollinators, as well as birds.  Even though it is a small garden and a minute step in turning the environment around, they know it is worth their time, effort, and money.
    More time leaning on the garden rake, or devoted to enjoying the view and sounds;  less time trying to create an unhealthy image.

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