When I was a kid, there were certain things growing wild that we knew it was okay to eat. Wild mint and watercress down by the creek, baby dandelion leaves, and a flowering shrub with bright red flowers you could pick and suck the sweet nectar from the end of the trumpet-shaped blooms. We knew never to eat china berries or hack berries. I don’t remember how we knew. Someone must have told us. There were huge oleander bushes lining my grandmother’s driveway. They are extremely toxic. We never went near them. We just knew.
At the right time of the year, there would be wild onion, wild carrot and something that looks (and tastes) like asparagus. All these things were available to an observant child growing up in the country, close to the natural world. There are worlds more of edible foods, herbs and wild crafting supplies for the taking out there – for an amazingly complete rundown on surviving on wild plants see: http://www.wilderness-survival.net/plants-1.php
These days it is becoming popular in some neighborhoods to turn up the front yard and plant a garden. Excellent idea! The kids get to see where some of their food comes from, for one thing. But what about the back yard – or whatever area you have around you where you live? Can you find a spot to turn from landscaped (water-intensive, chemical dependent) back to the wild?
As more and more land gets put into play for humans – agriculture, subdivisions, golf courses, etc. – less and less is available for the critters. People start seeing wildlife in their backyards, coyotes in Central Park. Where else can they go? And then there’s the crazy weather and floods and fires. I read about the wildlife in the fires near Big Sur running toward the ocean to escape the flames. What will they do when they get there?
I know that in the places I’ve been the last few years, even urban areas, the birds and animals are coming closer. I don’t know if they are losing their fear or just doing what they have to do to survive. But I know that it feels right to try to make some room for them too, in whatever way we can, as we all try to cope with our suffering planet. The payback may be waking up to watch deer graze out your bedroom window just before dawn or attracting the most beautiful butterflies, the migrating birds, the best chorus of frogs after a rain.
I was lucky enough to spot a hummingbird nest (no easy task – they are very small) and show it to my grandson when he was two and we watched as the parents fed the extremely small babies and saw them take off in their tiny perfection when they were fledged. How can you compare that with a manicured lawn that has to be mowed with a gasoline powered lawn mower which sounds like some kind of demon from hell?
Cities have all kinds of ordinances about these things as do neighborhood associations. In Austin your grass can’t be more than 12 inches high. Period. That requires lots of mowing. Maybe we should pass an ordinance outlawing lawns!
Then the hummingbirds and butterflies and possums and deer and red tailed hawks could share our space with us and we’d all be a lot better off.
The National Wildlife Federation will certify your very own backyard wildlife refuge if you register with them. They have been offering the certifications since 1973. By the spring of 2008, there were almost 100,000 National Wildlife Federation certified habitats in backyards, schoolyards, just down the road, coming to your neighborhood soon.