Being a passionate environmentalist – albeit a deeply flawed one- and the father of a one year old girl presents some pretty huge challenges. It’s impossible to ignore the overwhelming onslaught of bad news regarding the natural world. It’s hard, in short, not to feel hopeless. At the same time, there’s this ecstatic, tiny, wild-woman tearing around my house, exploding with tales and adventures yet written. Her future, and the future of the planet, is not cast in stone. And the truth is, its dangerous and lazy to assume we have any idea what life on earth will look like 100 years from now. Sure, we can extrapolate, but we can’t know. Therefore, we, as parents, have to raise our kids to think- and act- beyond the current seeming reality. And to do that, we have to present working models for a new possibility, models which, in this case just might prevent global collapse. We desperately need to get beyond, “Holy shit, WHAT HAVE WE DONE!!??”, and switch into, “Ok, what can we do?” And then we have to ask, “What is our sphere of influence?” I’m not the president, and on a great day, about 20 people read my blog, so for me, the answer is simple: “Create wildlife habitat where we live.” Call it my high horse. Here’s why:
“We can reclaim biodiversity and habitats within human landscapes.”
– Thomas Rainer
That scaly fellow swaying from our coast rosemary (Westringia) is a San Diego Alligator lizard. He was kicking it in the bush midday, most likely on the hunt for the airborne critters visiting the purple flowers that bloom winter through spring. It’s been cold here for LA, and I suspect food is tricky to come by. The sighting was a victory of sorts. One year ago, our yard was a dirt hole. Now, there’s a lot of things like that lizard creeping, crawling and flying around here. The yard is alive, and I don’t mind saying, I’m proud of that fact. Turning our property into habitat has been a dream since the day we set eyes on the place. I feel strongly about this. In fact, if I could, I’d make it a law: Anyone lucky enough to own a home with any amount of land should be required to make 50% of that property habitat for the local flora and fauna. That’s right, a law, punishable by death…or…no internet access.
Shot mostly in our backyard, here’s a little movie about the amazing Monarch Butterfly, why you should care, and what you can do save it from extinction.
Caught this late-season Monarch caterpillar as he wandered along our retaining wall, into the brush, making his pilgrimage to his final transformation…Of course Sian named him “Charles”.
For reasons no one really knows, Monarch caterpillars often travel fairly vast distances away from the milkweed to pupate. Charles here was about 10 feet from the milkweed plant he had been feeding and living on.
Spend 15 minutes researching global pollinator decline and the ensuing economic impact, and I think you’ll agree the Red States and Blue States are all facing a staggering economic tsunami if we don’t take a tip from the UK, fast. So, dig: Inspiring move by the British government in the BBC News today. Thanks, in no small part to the efforts of the good people at Friends of The Earth and an organization called BUGLIFE, the UK has passed a $900 million dollar, 10 year strategy to increase pollinator habitat in the UK. Interestingly, Europe is way ahead of the US on this issue, and is taking big strides to help, that’s right, bugs, knowing that pollinators are responsible for $207 billion in agriculture, world-wide, annually. That’s something our Republican majority, those protectors of the heartland, should see as a real throwdown. Let’s get ‘er done, boys and girls!
Read about it here:
Seth Brundle: You have to leave now, and never come back here. Have you ever heard of insect politics? Neither have I. Insects… don’t have politics. They’re very… brutal. No compassion, no compromise. We can’t trust the insect. I’d like to become the first… insect politician. Y’see, I’d like to, but… I’m afraid, uh…
Ronnie: I don’t know what you’re trying to say.
Seth Brundle: I’m saying… I’m saying I – I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over… and the insect is awake.
Ronnie: No. no, Seth…
Seth Brundle: I’m saying… I’ll hurt you if you stay.
– The Fly (1986, Dir. David Cronenberg)
When we bought our house , our yard was a sloppy rectangle of dead pomegranate trees, dried earth and a riddle of busted pipes. Sian was 6 months pregnant, so the priority was that which lay under the new roof, but my heart was focused on the yard. I was, my wife might say, obsessed. Well, I had a dream. I dreamed of creating a magical, urban jungle that my daughter could get lost in, critters would flock (or crawl) to, and friends would wander, drinks in hand, fully inspired. I dreamed of creating a habitat that would be boldly in-sync with the great Mediterranean Chaparral ecosystem that surrounds Los Angeles, and be a model for bridging man and nature in the 21st Century. Ten months later, I’m not even close. Nature, it turns out, has no regard for my wants. Continue reading Welcome to The Jungle…Hard Lessons From a Small Garden
A little while back, I wrote about the decimation of the Monarch butterfly population in my garden at the hands of a Chinese Mantis. Well, behold the lady in question, all three inches of her. With huge spiked claws 1/3 her body length and wide-set eyes with a binocular field of vision, this non-native, invasive lady is built to kill.
And so, as much as I hate her for her impact on the already struggling Monarch migration, I must admit, she’s terrifyingly cool to stare at…especially given the hair raising way she stares back.
Charles and Charles flew the nest today. Both Monarchs hatched this morning, between 7 am and 10 am. We let them take a few hours to fill out their wings before releasing them. Needless to say, a pretty cool thing to watch them fly off. Aniko, in true Aniko form, expressed her delight by nearly pinching them to death, but Sian successfully intervened, and no butterflies were handicapped in the making of this post.
So, that’s a total of three Monarch’s returned to the migration. We hope. It’s a tough journey for those critters under the best of circumstances, and these days, circumstances aren’t their best. Don’t forget, next year, plant milkweed and raise Monarch’s. Keep the flowers flowering and the fruit fruity.
In the months leading up to the birth of our daughter, Sian and I attended a birth class. One night, the instructor, Kathy, told the class to write down their list of essential “Must Do’s” prior to the birth of their child. It was important, she stressed, that we were clear about what we needed accomplished BEFORE the birth. Without skipping a beat, I jotted down my top priority. One by one, we went around the room, reading our lists. Everyone had pretty similar “Must Do’s”: “install car-seat”, “purchase breast pump” or “build nursery”. I looked down at my paper. The only thing I’d written was, “Plant the Butterfly Garden”. Embarrassed, I tried to bury my paper in my pocket. But before I could, Sian raised her hand and, with mock innocence, asked, “So, Kathy, would planting a butterfly garden be something you’d categorize as ‘essential’?” Everyone laughed.
Look, all my life I’ve geeked out over animals. And one thing I always assumed I’d do is get to see the Monarch butterfly’s legendary migration. But then I began reading stories about the steep decline of the Monarch and a profound feeling took over took me: This can’t happen. I want to go see this with my kid someday. But what can I do? I’m not a powerful person. I don’t have much money, and I don’t have political office. My sphere of influence, as a great teacher once called it, is not that impressive. And so, I got this butterfly garden in my head. Continue reading The Charles’s Project