Life-giving land

Once upon a time, in this very land, our “yards” were forest. The plot of ground now known to many of us as “the lawn” once provided food, water and shelter for numerous creatures great and small. And since these spaces were contiguous with other forested areas, animals could move through them without confronting pavement, cars, pesticides or fences.

Plants grew, spread seeds and died without ever having their survival threatened by a lawn mower. Birds traveling between winter and summer homes could take advantage of thousands of “rest areas” en route.

Our whole understanding of life itself was quite different. If you’d lived here as a young Cherokee back then, you would have accepted the myriad creatures around you as your base line (the reference point for how one believes things should be): Think natural abundance.

Right now, our children are busy perceiving their own base lines. Peering through school-bus windows, they assume that the plants and animals they see are what has always been. Why would they think otherwise?

Don’t tell them that the woods they know are but a shadow of what used to be. Let them experience what they can with all the wonder and awe a true miracle deserves. Until they become a bit more cerebral, they won’t understand the loss. And few will grasp the precariousness of what we still have.

The best way to give children a good base line is to expose them to as much natural beauty as possible. An easy and fulfilling way to accomplish this is to give back to the wild. As much as possible, try to emulate the landscape we’ve taken away.

Where once there was a forest floor full of seeds that birds relied on, stock bird feeders. Where trees full of rotted holes housed various animals, put up nest boxes. Replace woodland puddles with bird baths, and plant some trees and shrubs. They will cool your house, lower your energy bills, and raise your property value—all the while setting the stage for wildlife to mesmerize you with its incomparable beauty.

If enough people in our community do this, we’ll make our landscape much more permeable to wildlife. Wild plants and animals will be able to move around much more freely in whatever ways they need to—which they know quite well, and we may not even be aware of. A permeable landscape allows life to move and adjust, experiencing the natural ebb and flow inherent in our forests.

If you’re a turkey living in an oak/hickory forest and a lightning strike burns it down, it might be nice to be able to relocate without having to navigate the ChemLawn circuit. A bird on its way from Ecuador to New Jersey might grace you with his presence for a few hours, if you give him dinner and a bed. Here in fecund Southern Appalachia, we have an amazing variety of creatures—if only we provided for them!

Many people move here because of this natural beauty, but we can’t take it for granted. By actively participating in the stewardship of flora and fauna—not Flora and Donna—we experience the Zen of realizing our purpose.

It’s not enough to rely solely on Pisgah National Forest to provide for local plants and animals. Our built environment is a barrier to wild life when it needs to be a cradle. By making our surroundings beneficial to our scaly, fuzzy and feathered friends, we ensure that our children will create a solid base line they can reference when they have children of their own. Maybe then we’ll achieve the landscape connectivity we all need for species survival, and our descendants won’t have to learn about our current woodland neighbors via some electronic obituary.

Mountain Wild! is our local affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation. Our mission is providing backyard—and front-yard—wildlife habitat, and we invite everyone to join us in this effort. Please visit our Web site ( and learn how you can get involved.

[Asheville resident Dan Clere, an environmental educator, wants to help our community prepare for a post-peak-oil future.]

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