Harmony is a delightful word. It refers to multiple notes in a song or expressions of a life or event that get along with each other in a beautiful way. There is no discordance. It evokes a sense that there is flow as opposed to stagnation. The notes ever change although they may, at times, repeat. It can create a sense of peace or safety or belonging. It draws us in and makes us want to participate in the harmonious event.
To enchant is to “attract and move deeply” or “to influence by or as if by charms and incantation”. (Merriam-webster.com) The French verb for to sing is chanter, connecting the root word of enchantment to singing. A song sung with beautiful harmony can wrap around our hearts pulling forth emotions we had no intention of feeling at the time; it can enchant us.
When the planet is reaching a no-return point of impactful climate change, and when society is becoming more unpredictable in behavior, we need something to enchant our hearts back to the sense of awe and gratitude, back to sensible and greater-good behavior. We need a harmonious song powerful enough to reach our primordial urge to belong, because a fear of not belonging is at the core of every human heart. The only song powerful enough to enchant us back to sanity is the natural world where our primal, true sense of belonging resides. We all belong to the earth. We need to relearn to live in harmony with our planet as we learn to live in harmony with each other. And the best place to start is at the local level.
At the local level, living in harmony means paying attention to our ecosystems. Disturb an ecosystem by removing a species or two and the whole system gets unbalanced. They can also be just as disturbed by bringing in species that did not evolve within that ecosystem. We have done much to disturb ecosystems creating a discordance that is unsustainable and while silent to us at this time, is deafening- and deadly- to many other species. We can do better.
I live on a quarter acre city lot on a corner of residential streets. My husband and I crave privacy but are limited by city code what we can do. We also want to be surrounded by beauty and enjoy a peaceful and happy yard. We want it to be a welcoming place.
After years of tending- and too often not tending enough- to our yard and trying to create a welcoming place, I admit that we have nowhere near what we want. I believe that it’s because we have worked to transplant species into our yard that are not part of our natural ecosystem. Non-native plants need a lot of tending to live in a different ecosystem than they evolved in and they are too hybridized to survive naturally. Many came from another continent whose companion wildlife doesn’t live where we do. This is the popularity of planting foreign species: they tend to stay bug and disease-free. They grow and bloom without disease or insects to destroy our work because their companion diseases and insects don’t live here to make use of them. Many years of many yards in many cities and suburbs engaging in this practice have led to a marked decline in a once-plentiful biodiversity. The survival of many winged creatures, mammals and water life whose existence depends on native species has been challenged because of the search for the perfectly landscaped yard. (And don’t get me started on lawn fertilizer- that’s another blog post.)
“In the United States, invasive species cost an estimated $120 billion annually in control methods and in loss of environmental resources.” 2008 (http://www.environmentalscience.org/invasive-species)
Non-native species that appear to do no harm because they don’t spread on their own, include many farm crops. Nevertheless, clearing the forest for farmland decreases natural habitat space. Invasive species, on the other hand, spread their populations successfully and out-compete native species because they have no natural predators. In Michigan a good example is purple loosestrife that out-competes cattails. Cattail roots help prevent erosion and are home to insects, birds and amphibians. Birds line their nests with the seed fluff and larger mammals use them for cover. The cattail is entirely edible by humans. The purple loosestrife, to my knowledge no longer sold at garden centers in Michigan, crowds out cattails and does not offer all the cattail benefits to the ecosystem. Loosestrife’s root structure contributes to the reduction of the area of wetlands and greatly decreases biodiversity where it lives.
So, here we are on our quarter acre lot embarking on creating a native ecosystem yard. This is going to be tough. It needs to be city code friendly, provide for privacy in winter and summer, and will cause me to remove some favorite plants that do not belong here. I’m not always sure what in my yard is native or foreign because I’m finding contradictory information as I do my research. Some trees we have I know are native such as the maples and mulberries. Some I know are not native such as our peach and pear trees. Grapes are native to Michigan but not our variety. I have to admit that these will be the last to go.
For us, it’s not just a simple overhaul of landscaping. We’ve lived here for over 30 years and have become very accustomed to the way things are. We are do-it-yourselfers and I, for one, recognize each plant as a living being, intrinsically beautiful in its own right. Can I really just rip out the roses and compost them? Pull out the privet hedge that gives us privacy? This will be as much or more of an internal process than an external one. Journey with us as we venture into what it means to turn a city yard into a little native oasis.