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Archive for the ‘Sustainability Project’ Category

School has started!  Last week Sam had his first days of kindergarten, which he loved, but today is the first full day.  And, my master plan of getting Sierra to nap while he’s at school (11:20-2:05) worked! I may have over an hour+ of kid-free time at home most weekdays.   Amazing.  Look at me sitting here at my computer writing, even.  Tomorrow, I may pay some bills.  It’s exciting beyond belief.   But what is even MORE exciting is that yesterday we bought a tag-along for Sam that attaches to my bike.  It’s a nice Burley that can also accept paniers to carry groceries and stuff.  Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day which also happened to be the day of Sunday Streets, where they block off roads in a neighborhood and open them up to bikes and pedestrians.  And, it happened to be in our neighborhood this year! There was music, food and lots of people out and about.   The best part was riding up and down Hilyard, normally a busy street, on our bikes with no cars in our way.

I have been pondering how to ride with my two kids for a number of months now, and considered some fancy (and super-fun) options like an electric cargo bike.  Maybe someday, but we don’t have $3000 to put into a vehicle right now.  So I finally decided a tag-along for Sam with the front seat (goes under my handlebars) for Sierra would probably work fine.  And it does!  Though I have not tried getting groceries yet.

As usual, Sam did not want to try the shiny new bike when I petaled home from Arriving by Bike with it.  He wanted to play computer.  It was scary.  We were going too fast.  It took some serious prodding (and threats of lost computer time) but eventually we talked him into taking a short ride with us.  Ben came along, riding his bike by himself.  Well, the sea change in Sam’s attitude from start to finish was hilarious.  Once he got comfortable, he couldn’t stop talking about how much fun it was.  “Mom, this is sooooo fun!”  “Mom, can we ride this everywhere now?”  “Mom, are you having fun?”  “Mom, this is terrific!!” “Mom, you want a boost now?”  It was adorable and totally made my day.  I was having fun.  When Sam decides to petal, it really helps.  When he doesn’t I can still get us around fine.  The last hill before my house (which is very steep) I get off and push the bike up but that’s fine.  Sam gets off and walks (or runs ahead to unlock the door.)  Sierra loves biking too so I’m hoping from now on most days my car will rest in the carport while we get fresh air, exercise, and to and from our errands without expelling an ounce of carbon.

Sam was very excited to go to school today once he realized we were riding the bike.  It went so fast we took an extra spin around the block just for fun and to kill time.  Compared to walking, biking to and from school is going to save us a lot of time everyday.  Which is good since kindergarten is only 2.5 hours!  Okay, I’m off to accomplish one more thing before we pop back on the bike to pick him up.  Hopefully I’ll post a picture of us on our bike later today.

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I did it!  Survived almost two weeks on my own with the kiddos and I have to say, I’m much stronger for it.  It’s kinda like running distances, if you’ve never run more than a mile it seems ridiculously long.  But once you do it, you’re ready to try something even longer.  Not saying I want another kid, just, I understand now on a deeper level how such a thing might be possible.  Ben is home now, but he’s down fixing his car (or something) so I’ve got a minute to write.

I’ve been doing lots of thinking about my sustainable living game.  Still need a name for it, but I’m already starting to figure a few things out.  I finally had the forethought to order some meat, dairy (and beans!) from Eugene Local Foods.  The milk and half and half come in reusable bottles, so that makes my diary *almost* local, organic and waste free.  Here’s the catch: the lids are plastic and not reusable.  This is often a problem, even when the main container can be recycled there is some little part that can’t.  Just like if I buy organic green onions from the grocery store: even if I put them into my own bag they still come with two rubber bands and a giant yellow twist tie.  So, I think the packaging category needs an extra breakdown level then the local and organic categories.  But how this should work, I’m not sure yet.  Perhaps a four point scale where something with no packaging gets a zero and something in a completely non-recyclable container gets a 4.

0 = no packaging

1 = minor packaging (a sticker, thin piece of paper, a rubber band, a reusable glass bottle with disposable lid)

2 = mostly recyclable (ex. Nancy yogurt container or Mt. Dew where you throw away the lid)

3 =  partially recyclable (ex. cereal box where you recycle the cardboard and toss the plastic bag)

4 = all trash (ex. any waxed cardboard drink container smaller than half gallon)

I don’t know if this makes things more fair, or just too complex.  More pondering is necessary.  On the plus side, the non-homogenized local organic milk tastes amazing!  Sam keeps asking for “the new milk.”  We haven’t opened the butter but already a couple of sources have told us its fabulous as well.  Picking it up turned out to be a fun little outing, and I’m hoping if we keep it up sometime this summer we’ll take the kids out to the farm to meet the actual cows we are getting milk from.  Also, I was finally brave enough to bring my own container for our deli sliced meat and it worked just fine.  They still gave us a piece of wax paper but it’s thin and there’s no plastic.

Okay, enough thoughts for tonight!  Happy Imbolc everyone!

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An idea is bubbling, churning, fermenting perhaps: about a great lifestyle experiment.  Alright “great” might not be justified since I have yet to figure it out, but its fun to dream big.  My main inspirations are Barbara Kingsolver “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and Colin Beavan “No Impact Man.”  The birds-eye view of the idea is a series of constraints (or goals) that modify our current lifestyle into one that is healthier for both our family and mama earth.   My recent inspiration was an article in Sunset about a family in the bay area who produce virtually no trash.  Making no trash was part of the No Impact Man experiment as well.

Historically trash hasn’t been a huge concern of mine, but the other day I peered out the window at the giant garbage truck coming to dump our trash into its backside.  With all the beeping (from the four-point turn it has to make at our narrow dead-end street) and exhaust fumes I couldn’t help but think, “What a waste.”  Then this article caught my eye and it was fascinating to read some of the tricks they use to avoid owning a garbage can.  Right down to mailing the little plastic strip back with the netflix movie (kinda cheating, but making a point) and buying produce from the farmers market to avoid the little stickers from the grocery store.

When I stopped to think about it, I couldn’t help but notice how avoiding trash (at least in the food department) lends itself nicely to other goals of mine.   Food-wise I’d love to be eating all local, organic, unprocessed, unpackaged foods.  If I put the constraint of No Trash on my food purchases it would knock out all processed foods in one fell swoop.  When I think about where I’m going to find eggs, milk, beer in non-disposable containers it inevitably leads me to local sources.

It’s a baby step, but yesterday when I went to the grocery store I brought with me (in my reusable grocery bag) glass containers for the three items I planned to buy in bulk.  I stopped by the check-out on the way in and had them weigh the containers and write it on the lids (I even brought my own sharpee for this purpose.)  Filling them was no problem and it saved the little plastic baggies and twist ties.  An added benefit: when I got home I could just stick the items on the shelf!  No transfer spills or little bit left in the baggie because I bought a quarter cup too much.  Another plus is I have to use up all of an item before I buy more, which I believe will help me to not waste food and money.

I’ve been thinking about how this project could work.  It’s complicated because I have several goals, and I don’t think I can achieve any of them to perfection.  I don’t think I can eat 100% local (sorry, I’m just not going to give up coffee) nor can I make zero trash.  But, there is tons of room for improvement.  One idea I had was to set up a point system for foods we buy, perhaps getting points for being organic, local,  and unpackaged.  So if I bought an organic potato from the farmers market and carried it home in my basket it would get three points.  If I bought eggs from the farmers market and brought back the carton from the previous week but they weren’t organic it’d get two points.  Etc, etc.  I’m thinking out loud here and perhaps it would be better to work in reverse, points are bad, so when we buy a Mt. Dew (for Ben) we get three points because it’s packaged, and not even close to local or organic.  But we might have to add another level of points for packaging, depending on if it can be recycled or not.  I’d love to have every container be reused, but in some cases recycling may be necessary.

I won’t bore you with too much more brainstorming, but I wanted to write something here to get the ball rolling.  Another aspect of this project, I hope, will be us learning to use less electricity.  I recently acquired a TED (total energy detective) which will hopefully soon be hooked up to the main electrical panel in our house.  The idea is we can monitor real-time (and record on the computer!) the amount of electricity our house is using.  My goal is to use this as a spring board for using less, partially by increasing awareness and also by understanding the true cost of things.  How much does it cost to do a load of laundry?  Is it better to heat that cup of tea on the stove or in the microwave?  If I turn the oven on half an hour before I’m actually ready to stick the cookies in, how much am I wasting?

Besides figuring out the specifics of how the heck I’m actually going to pull this off, the other things to do right now are measure where we’re at and warm up the family to the idea of taking this journey with me.   Looking at past electric bills is no problem, I’ve got them all recorded in a spreadsheet from the time we moved into this house.  Determining the financial impact of the food portion would be interesting as well.  I really don’t know if we’d spend more or less eating from a new set of criteria.  It’d be worthwhile to figure out how much we spend now so I’ll have a basis for comparison later.  And then of course there is the project on convincing my husband that not only is this a good idea, but it will be fun too!   I’ll let you know how that one goes.

I’m in the early dreaming stages at this point, I haven’t even figured out a name for the project yet.  I want to design it like a game, so it will be fun and keep us motivated.  I’m hoping that sometime before the end of 2011 we can start this experiment (with well defined constraints) where we try our best to take a little bit less from the earth and hopefully live healthier too!

“When it comes to saving money and growing our economy, energy efficiency isn’t just low hanging fruit; it’s fruit laying on the ground.” -Energy Secretary Steven Chu

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So it’s Beltane, and look, I’m writing another blog.  I find this mildly amusing since I wrote the last one on the spring equinox.  Anyway I’m not quite as blissed out today as I was then, but, the child is sleeping and I have a few minutes with the house to myself.  Tonight we went to a Ben’s friend’s party, and it made me miss my friends. I wish I was spending this holiday with them.  To each their own.  Some people get drunk and race four wheelers around their property making cookies in the mud, others dance the maypole and sit around the fire singing and drumming.  On some level I get it, either way, on another, one just doesn’t work for me.

I did have a nice time at a native plant sale today, put on by the friends of Buford Park.  I had a long chat with one of the board members who’s lived near the park for about as long as I’ve been alive.  It’s an ecologically diverse 2300 acres of park wedged between the Middle and Coast forks of the Willamette, just a few minutes from my house.   But how amazing would it be to live with that as your backyard?  He said he runs the trails in the park all the time, just outside his back door.  Someday, when I’m ready to leave the conveniences of the city, it might be fun to live out there.  I used to think I’d migrate to the Loraine valley just south of here.  But most of that area is 2-10 acre parcels, all privately owned.  I’d be in the country, but basically confined to my land.   I like the idea of a little land for us next to a BIG public nature area.  But that’s just me dreaming, there’s no moving in the cards for us anytime soon.  The Friends of Buford Park have a beautiful little native plant nursery, where they collect seed to spread around the park.  I’d like to spend more time out there, and maybe help out.

With all that extra energy I have these days.  Ha! I can barely keep up with toddler, house chores, cooking, and volunteering for Nearby Nature and extension.  Oh right, and making this baby.  I think 50% of my energy must go into baby making.   I whine about it a lot, the not having energy thing.  Probably should just let it go and hope for productivity at some other phase of my life.  I have been doing yoga and drinking more water, which helps.  I’m 15 weeks along and I got to hear the heartbeat again the other day.  She’s got a good little pumper!  Okay I don’t really know if it’s a girl, but I feel like it is.  Hopefully we’ll get to find out sometime early June, if I have insurance by then.

The oil spill in the gulf is really bothering me.  I had dreams about it all last night and woke up quite cranky. I don’t actually read the news much these days, but I caught that story early on and have been watching closely.  I was really rooting for those little robots that were going to swim down there and seal it all up.  But that was days ago, and since that failed things have gone from bad to worse.   Just when I think humans couldn’t possibly be more ruthless with our consumption and destruction of this planet, we go and one-up ourselves.  There is an old Indian woman in my soul and she cries and cries at the destruction at hand.  The problem with caring about the Mother is you start to FEEL the Mother, and when you take it all in it isn’t a good feeling these days. Luckally, there are beautiful natural areas nearby to remind me all is not lost.

In my yard today I saw a big snake, a queen bumble bee and a beautiful little butterfly.  As my habitat areas are getting more wild and overgrown I see their potential to attract residents is growing.  It’s amazing how ‘the old log’ starts to become a destination because you know you’ll find something crawling around on it.  Lately I’ve been dreaming about a really big old log rotting slowly up in the corner.   Might have to settle for a few smaller ones and a nice pile of sticks.

Okay well, there will be a drunk husband coming home at some point and it’s probably better I’m asleep before then.  Sorry I don’t have any fabulous stories of dancing naked around the Beltane fires… maybe next year.

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I tried to write a blog the other day.  I had a plan, a title, a topic, etc.   Maybe I’ll finish it, but for now I’m just going to spew random thoughts because I feel like it and it sounds easier.  Did I mention writing gets harder when you stop doing it for a long time?

So we gave away all our furniture and now I’m looking for a new couch.  Okay not all our furniture, just the futon and giant pillow chair that were taking up most of our TV room.  They weren’t comfortable to sit on, so, they went bye bye.  Anyway, I don’t want a NEW couch, I want an old one.  I’m imagining a funky colored one with a wood frame and character.  The new ones are all huge, overstuffed and BORING.  Not to judge, we bought that style of sectional for the living room and I like it fine.  Still, I want something more interesting in the den.  So I’ve been checking craigslist and 2nd hand stores fora couple weeks now, but we’re still watching Battlestar Galactica and Weeds on our office chairs.  Last night, we went to see Avatar 3d at the theatre and yes, it was amazing.  So here’s my question to my stupid unconscious:  why do I dream about couch shopping instead of flying through phosphorescent jungles on magical birds all night?!?!?!?  *sigh*  Life could be so much more exciting if only my dreamscape could reflect the best part of my waking day instead of the most boring.

Today a man is coming to look at the cherry tree in our backyard and tell me how much he wants to, uh… cut it down!  It’s some kind of invasive pie cherry that we don’t eat and the animals don’t seem to care for either.  Also, its shading the ‘meadow.’   This is all part of my plan to turn my backyard into both a highly productive vegetable farm AND a strong and diverse wildlife habitat.  I know I have a good imagination, but the amazing thing about nature is how much can happen is a small space.  Anyway, I am feeling bad about planning to kill a tree, even if it isn’t native or useful to humans or animals.  Ben of course pointed out that it’s still a carbon sink, and by cutting it down I am contributing more co2 in the atmosphere.  Fair enough.   My dream is an oak tree will grow up in its place.  There’s already a tiny one planted by a squirrel last year.   Apparently oak trees are one of the most productive tree as far as supporting critters.  Plus, they are magical and amazing.   Anyway, my plan is to kill the cherry tree and have the guy cut up most of it, but leave a 8-10ft snag in place.  Snags (standing dead trees) are excellent wildlife habitat.  Plus, I’m kinda excited about watching it slowly break down and eventually tip over.  I dunno if we’ll be in the house that long, but maybe.  It must be short enough so that when it falls, it doesn’t hit the house.   Ohhh a snag!  Gives me shudders of excitement!   My only fear is a bird tires to build a nest in it and the neighbor cat makes a quick meal out of her.  But I think most birds are too smart for that.   My hope is the snag will be home to insects and that birds can come eat the bugs.

The other project I’m super excited about (actually super-duper excited!!) is my war with the Armenian blackberries.  It’s been a good year for removing invasive weeds.  I got most of the English Ivy out of the front by the end of the summer, cleared the St. John’s Wort from under the native bushes in the back in the fall, and this winter I finally got up the courage to start tackling the blackberries.  They grow on the road easement at the base of our driveway and many of them are well over 8ft tall.  I’ve often stood under them and wondered how one would ever get rid of the tangled mass of giant thorny vines growing over piles of its dead kin.  It’s also on a steep slope, of course.   Anyway, after a highly productive Stream Team work party where I cleared 60+ ft of blackberries along Amazon creek with a gas-powered hedge trimmer, I had my taste for blood.  I don’t own a hedge trimmer, but one day I just headed out there and started chopping away with my hand clippers.  The first day I cleared a trail along the top.  The next day I started working my way down the hill.  After a couple 1-2hour sessions the progress I’d made was impressive.

One issue that held me back from getting started was: what the hell do I do with the debris once I chop the suckers down?  I finally decided I would just leave them in place, chopping them up into small pieces as I go.  It makes for a lot more work, but the mat that is forming over the bare soil (NOTHING grows in the shade of an ancient blackberry) is working out well.  On the slope, it keeps the soil from eroding while new vegetation becomes established, or at least that’s my hope.  Anyway, it’s become quite an exciting treasure hunt.  Who knew what the ground looked like under all those brambles?  Turns out there’s a steep slope, followed by a semi-level area near the base of the driveway.   Let me tell you, any land even sort of level is like a gold mine around here.

Yesterday was the most surprising unveiling yet.   I almost don’t want to tell you about it because it’s so exciting.   Okay okay, now that I think about it, it’s probably not that exciting to anyone except me, and hopefully Sam.   Still, I think I’ve save it for another blog.

Thanks Meg, for getting me writing again!  I’ll try to write something a little more focused next time. 🙂

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Water Conference

I swear blogging gets really hard when you stop doing it for a while.  Either I forget how to think, or just how to put thoughts into sentences.  Probably the latter, because it seems like my mind has been going a mile a minute lately.  The topic of interest?  Water!  The Water and Land Use Planning in the PNW meeting did well to recharge my enthusiasm for the element.

First I can’t help but contrast it with my previous conference experiences.   I’ve only been to a few: physics, photonics, and neuroscience.    Photonics West was my fullest experience , when I attended with funding from my previous employer, where I took a full day class and went to talks.  Anyway having studied physics and optics for years, and having worked in the field I was still mostly confused by the content of the lectures.  The class I could understand okay but it was boring to the point of insanity, especially by the 8th hour of lecture.   My fellow classmates were 95% male and not very friendly.

Remembering that, I was a little nervous about attending this conference in a field I have no training or experience.   However I knew it was a good sign when it took me hours to sort through all the lectures and decide which sessions to attend because so many of them sounded interesting.  To my relief I was able to understand most of the material, with the exception of about four acronyms which I still need to look up.   My recent flurry of reading gave me background on many of the topics.  And the people were friendly, welcoming and quite diverse.  At least half were women (including one of the keynote speakers) and there seemed to a nice balance of ‘young professionals’ and ‘seasoned veterans.’    They fed us several delicious meals where we sat at round tables of eight.   By the end of the final lunch our table was engaged in a lively discussion on topics like the McKenzie river, dam removal, salmon populations, pollution, toxins in people, and methods to purify water.  We were all strangers at the beginning of lunch, but by the end I had learned things from a non-profit director, recent masters graduate, two environmental groups, and a DEQ coordinator.   I found myself often leading the discussion this way or that, excited to find people who could comment on my questions.  And I suppose there is just something about getting a bunch of people together who are all interested in the same thing.  It was easy to imagine myself getting up and giving a talk at a similar conference someday.

So what did I come away with?  I must admit most of the time I was there my head was spinning from trying to take in so much new information and so many new people at the same time.  But the long drive home really helped give me some time to process the information while it was still fresh.  One of my goals was to come away with a bit more direction.  Here are a few ideas:

Nutrient enrichment: basically, fertilizer in water.  There has got to be ways to grow our food/lawns without polluting our water with algae blooms.  Organic gardening is a great solution, but I feel like there could be better ‘best management practices’ even with synthetic fertilizers.  A topic I’d like to learn more about.

Pollution from People: we put so much crap in and on our body that our showers and pee add a startling array of chemicals to the water cycle.   Estrogen, medicines, DEET, perfumes, a lot of things get through water treatment and end up in the rivers.  I know most people don’t want to think about such things, but I’m starting to think we need to.  Cleaning up our water may be more cost-effective than spending more on healthcare.   Thinking about this problem and idea popped into my head: composting toilets?

And then of course there was the underlying topic effecting all other topics: climate change.  More specifically, what will climate change mean for our water supply?  How can we make sure we don’t lose it?  People think about water less than electricity or food but really nothing is more important.  Without water, you have nothing.  The two biggest users of water are crops and power plants, and do you have any idea how much water it takes to make a solar panel?   It was suggested that the pacific northwest’s population could swell if a hotter, less predictable climate caused those in less temperate areas to relocate.  An idea that’s crossed my mind more than once.

Although we are blessed with more water than some locations, our resources are limited.  Then there is the issue of water storage.   In the PNW we have a long wet season followed by a 2-3 month drought.  Our summer water comes mostly from snow melt, that fell the previous winter.   Some water is stored in dams, but it is tiny compared to the snow pack of the Cascades.   And what is likely to happen if the climate warms?  We lose our snow, the precipitation falls as rain, runs off, and there is nothing left for summer.  Okay so what about groundwater?  We can always pump more from our aquifers, right?  Well, aquifers are only a renewable resource as long as people pump no more than is recharged by infiltration.   The double whammy of population growth is you get both more people pumping and less infiltration.  Why?  Because people like to stay clean and dry so they build roofs and pavement and instead of soaking into the ground and eventually recharging the aquifer, rain runs off.  The run-off collects pollutants, causes flows to be more flashy (my favorite new word from the conference) and swells the streams whenever it rains hard.  Vegetated land is able to collect and store water much better than our hard surfaces, and the plants and soil act as natural filters so that by the time the water reaches the aquifer it is cool, clean and pure.  Okay, so why am I so excited about this problem?  Because it seems to me that it has an elegantly simple solution.  Rain gardens!  If we could just design our landscapes with infiltration gardens to absorb the run-off from nearby surfaces we could reduce floods, river pollution and recharge our aquifers.  As time passes and if we do lose much of our snowpack, houses could each have collection barrels for irrigation.

Anyway I’ve been excited about rain gardens for a while because they are pretty and are fun to watch in the rain.   My previous favorite things about them were pollution prevention and wildlife habitat, but now I’m seeing them on a whole other level.  Perhaps they could be an important component of local water security in a changing climate.  I’m playing around with a couple small infiltration gardens on my property, which is tricky because we don’t have level land.   Water is wonderfully difficult to control, so simple, yet…

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Rain gardens, river ecosystems, invasive species, wildlife habitat. My newfound freedom two days a week has allowed me to spend many hours at the public library reading and researching to my heart’s content. Water is the topic of interest lately: hydrology, watersheds, pollution and my favorite part: restoration. Learning the history of our rivers, lakes and wetlands here in the northwest is almost as sad as learning what happened to Native American Indian culture as the settlers moved west.

I keep thinking about that old saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” (or, that song that fits with this discussion as well.) But the saying is wrong. We had pristine natural rivers in the 1800’s and they are 99% gone, but we look at our channelized, dammed rivers that are disconnected from their natural flood plains and think they look just fine. In our lifetimes we’ve seen the water quality of our rivers improve, thanks to the Clean Water Act, but we have never even seen a river in its natural form. We have thrown the natural ecosystems of this land so out of whack that we think nature needs us it manage it.

I realize how hard it is to see ourselves outside the filters of our society. Many of us claim to admire and respect nature, but when it comes to our direct interaction with it we’d rather nature do exactly what we want. For example the American love affair with the evergreen turf  lawn accounts for a huge percentage of residential water use.  Often it causes water pollution and degradation of wildlife habitat. Here in Oregon, we can enjoy a lush green lawn from October to June without expending a drop of our precious fresh water. However, it requires a huge amount of water to keep these lawns green through the summer. Then, because they are fighting the natural cycle, people use fertilizers to help keep the grass green. The nitrogen and phosphorus runs off after watering, flows into the storm drain and into the nearest river. The excess nutrients cause algae blooms which deplete the oxygen in the water, kill fish and generally degrade the aquatic habitat. Pretty lawn, sick river.

But it is hard for us to look out at a dry brown lawn in the summer and feel that it is okay. Somehow without our prefect green patch we have missed out on the American dream. But I am encouraged that attitudes are changing. In my neighborhood there are only a couple of lawns kept green throughout the summer, the rest turn brown. When most yards on the block change with the seasons as they naturally would, it’s easier to feel okay letting yours do the same. One of my favorite parts about not watering the lawn in the summer is its easy! One less thing to worry about; just let it alone and nature will take care of turning it brown for you.  And then you get to watch it come to life again on its own when the fall rains begin!

Still, I understand that it is hard for people to let go of the idea that green is good and brown in bad. Although I have worked through it and my brown lawn looks great to me, I do still irrigate some plants in my garden. My new goal is to make my garden a wildlife habitat by removing some of the invasive species and re-introducing a diversity of native plants. And hopefully building and planting a water garden!

Gardening for wildlife is a whole topic by itself, but I mention it here because it’s a another example of having to reset mental pathways that have already been wired for what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’. For example, two large flowering bushes that have been in my yard since I moved here suddenly died this summer. Now they are brown and bare of leaves and my instinct whenever I see them that I need to clear them out. To my eyes they look ugly. But in studying about ecosystems and wildlife habitat I am starting to understand that this dead wood is the building blocks of what becomes excellent habitat. If it really is more important for my yard to welcome and support wildlife than look pretty, I may have to make peace with some of the dead bushes. Or, I might find a compromise: chop them up and push them under larger bushes so they are less visible but hopefully still useful to my garden ecosystem?

We’ll see. My ideas are still evolving just as the way I see beauty is changing. And I am just beginning to learn how to garden with nature instead of against it. But I feel like I’m on the right track, and even if the journey takes a lifetime I won’t be sorry I let go of a more traditional style of gardening. We humans have taken so much from the earth, it would make me feel better if at least the little outdoor space around my house could support some of the other life forms that share this world.

Right now, my focus is on invasive species removal. Most of the front yard is covered in English Ivy. In the back, the St. John’s Wort is creeping under the fence and starting to establish itself in my yard. I’m not very good at removing plants. I often start to feel sorry for them as I’m ripping them out. “Well, maybe they’re not so bad after all…” But today I will stay focused and determined: they must go because where they live nothing else can. I want to welcome a variety of plants into my yard and if one is too much of a bully then out it goes.

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