Who Lives Here?
By Judith O’Grady
I live in what I describe as ‘a tiny urban farm’. In fact, I live in an edge-of- town not quite suburban house with (because it was built in the ’60’s) a fairly generous yard which is about 90% garden. We do grow vegetables in the few sunny spots (largely in bags and bins on the driveway) but actually the majority is an herb and native perennial garden, certified by the Canadian Wildlife Federation (helps me fight with by-law about not cutting it down). The older parts have been in place for 15ish years and the whole is fairly mature, which means that some of it is huge and about 1/4 to 1/3 wasn’t planted by me– if you don’t mow, things will volunteer in. We maintain slight control— we weed (‘thistling’ is a verb with us, I tell the helpers “top of the list today is thistling…”) and we build beds on the few patches of grass left because the best way of getting rid of grass is to paper over it; if you try to dig it up it just comes back in the middle of what you’re trying to grow.
Almost every morning (as well as any other time I am free) I sit on the back deck and drink coffee. Mostly, I just drift (‘meditate’) and often I look around at how things are doing and what needs done next session (I am moderately handicapped and so I have helpers) but today I found myself thinking about the end-of-world. A week or two ago, someone on Facebook posted about going somewhere and seeing chipmunks. Which is fun since chipmunks are the Beanie Babies of the rodent world but also laughable to me since our yard is FULL of chipmunks. Sixish years ago, we had ONE chipmunk (well, likely two) in the organic, full-of-seedheads yard. After a few years, Chipmunk decided that the kids might as well stay on since there are lavish plants, many routes of safety, and much spilled birdseed.
So we had SOME chipmunks.
It’s a pretty good environment, and now at maximum load of chipmunks. If you sit down anywhere for five minutes you will see about six (or possibly three twice). We never try to trick them into perceiving us as not-dangerous and taking peanuts from our hands so it’s not the best destination-wildlife- experience ever, but a lot of fun. So I was unfocusedly watching the chipmunks and noting the delightful Goldfinches at the birdfeeders (what we do, in case you’re planning a fierce rebuttal, is fill them about half the time— support but not expectation— and leave a bunch of seedheads around as well) and I found a book I read some years ago came to mind. ‘A World WIthout Us’, which is not a new but a very well-done book.
What if all the people were gone? He doesn’t dwell on this but zips right past to the other side; what happens to everything else? It’s a very encouraging and thought-provoking book; he discusses how fast cities will break down (it’s wonderful how fast New York City, that paved-over brick where I had so many and so beautiful hallucinations of the lost forests when I lived there as a teen will disappear) and how re-growth will occur using the no-go zones as between North and South Korea and on Cyprus as templates.
“Some of you chipmunks will have to move on when no one is filling the birdfeeders,” I thought. But still a pretty good place— we have mature pines between our back and the weedy, rarely-mown highway noise barrier strip with a family of little Red Squirrels (who favor pines) in them. Only ONE family, no hangers-on— Red Squirrels are described as ‘very territorial’ in the nature books which translates as unimaginably aggressive. I have seen the Red Squirrel hide inside the birdfeeder in order to ambush the grey squirrels stopping by. This even though ze is less than half their size. Because they are mainly on the ground the chipmunks do not (usually) provoke the Little Red and the Little Red Family would carry on in our absence just fine. So the chipmunks are okay.
“Hmmmmm, the waterfall pond would fill up with gunk without a recirculating pump and someone scooping out Maple keys, but the fish pond (which is larger) would be all right even if the bubbler was shut off.”
Water is crucial to wildlife. Although not so much to the plantings, two Summers ago we had a fierce and protracted drought and all the neighbors’ yards browned-off completely; two years or a dry Fall and they would have died. My front yard? Not a banner year but not suffering either.
Alan Weisman mentions this in the book as well, that places that already have natives and hardy spready plants will serve as foci for the places that will become empty. We noticed a phenomenon like that this Spring. No one hurried to mow because the city is going to dig up the edges of the street as part of a sewer/water project. A friend came over to dig up some plants and asked, “Why do you have no Dandelions?” I had not noticed, but it was so— where they were competing with grass in the walkways there were lots; in the Wildlife Garden where they compete with Yarrow and Gravel- Root there were none.
I am a biologist and a Plague-Believer (the world will like be swept by a >90% kill plague due to crowding, global transportation, and the mutability of viruses rather than the blowing-up of bombs, etc even though humankind is endlessly imaginative) although I don’t dwell on it. But it is a comforting thought that my yard will protect the wildlife that lives here and the plants I have nurtured will spread out into the neighbors’ yards once the poison once put on it is gone.
I am happy with that as my memorial— the Very Local Land Spirit will still remember me when I am gone.
Judith is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).