To Locate Ourselves
Updated: Jul 3
You know how the interior of big franchise stores are so familiar, so uniform from one to the next that, once inside, you couldn't say if you were in Florida or Saskatoon? We can experience this same twilight zone on our own home turf where a house and yard – a whole town or city, really – is so devoid of ecological context that we fail to situate ourselves. Absent a view to the distance, what's there underfoot or in our streetscapes to indicate whether we're on the coast, in the mountains, or the foothills? If you're a rural dweller your place in the landscape may be much more apparent, but even then there's a good chance that ornamentals, lawns, or crops stand in for the original, native vegetation and the undulations of the land have been altered.
This is a sad disorientation because it means our human developments have retained but a shadow of the rich habitat they displaced and we, in turn, experience but a shadow of the plant and animal kin who could be alongside us. No doubt this all stands in the way of us becoming native to a place ourselves.
One simple way to welcome that ecological context back in, to infiltrate our well-curated places with more of their wild essence, is to plant native species. I know: it sounds like a dull, maybe tired, possibly simplistic suggestion. But as John Muir said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe". So plant a few wild roses and lo and behold native pollinators will find them, birds will arrive who depend on the berries in the winter, and who knows what microbiological relationships may be rekindled underground. Expand to a few more plant species and whoever they are "hitched" to may show up as well. Your tiny repatriation effort may be a fragment, but it will dispel uniformity and tether you to the larger landscape.
Developing raspberries with a pollinating bee
If you're like me and want to glean sustenance from the plants you tend, luckily edible and native species do intersect. (Of course they do – First Nations have intimate experience with this.) In Alberta, for instance, we have saskatoons, currants, strawberries, fireweed and wild rose, just to name a handful of native food plants that are amenable to cultivation. In the process of deriving food, interacting with the patterns, scents and flavours of these species can recall you to what's growing and going on beyond the bounds of your built environment – in the home within which your home sits. You might draw inspiration for this endeavour by perusing a wild edibles guidebook for your region or a local native plant nursery.
So what do you say -– shall we exit the twilight zone and locate ourselves firmly on the terrain we're in? Let's make space for the other organisms that define our landscape – in so doing we might discover that we've been hitched to the whole lot of them all along.