Sunday, June 29, 2008

How Green is Your Patrimony?

There's just one day left in June - the month of Father's Day - and even though the day itself is long past, we didn't want the month to slip away without sharing this lovely essay by Bill Herald, co-owner of the Wild Bird Center of Annapolis:

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it is attached to the rest of the world. - John Muir.

This quotation, taken from the writings of John Muir, the prominent naturalist of a century ago, gets to the essential connectedness of the natural world. The insight that Muir is expressing is one that we know today under the once popular heading of "Ecology." That is, living things exist within a complex web of relationships that humans seldom understand completely.

Muir was reminding people how one action taken now has a set of impacts both here and there. In another way, however, an action can have impacts both now and then. That is, the dimension of time is similar to the dimension of space. In this way, we can understand that a "tug on a single thing in nature," can have impacts for a lifetime. Because June is the month for Father's Day, it is worthwhile to consider how the actions of parents can shape their children's appreciation of the natural world over their lifetimes. At the Wild Bird Center, we are often privileged to witness and to assist in the kind of inter-generational hand-off that makes us hope for the future of the environment.

One of the most popular articles ever published in our little newsletter was the piece entitled, "Lawns and God." This short essay, reprinted from another source, provided a humorous, but devastating look at the Creator's assessment of the suburbanite's perverse obsession with a green lawn. Since this is the time of year that people are getting back to outdoor living, it seems appropriate to follow up by suggesting that your lawn, your backyard is actually, to use John Muir's phrase, the "single thing nature" that you have control over. The suggestion here is that in this month of Father's Day, you use your "single thing in nature" to re-attach it to the rest of the world and to the world you children and grandchildren will live in.

Thus, Father's Day becomes an opportunity to consider the concepts of patrimony and stewardship from the perspective of the environment. Webster's Dictionary defines patrimony as "Anything derived from one's father or ancestor's." Although we are accustomed to using the word in the sense of inherited land, position or fortune, it is wonderful to think of an environmental awareness, sensitivity and commitment as a child's patrimony this Father's Day. While you're at it, develop in your children a sense of stewardship, which Webster's defines as "careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care." That thing "entrusted to your care" is your backyard. Why not take advantage of the opportunity this year to use the day to put up a bird house with your kids or create your own backyard nature area?

Why not make Father's Day another Earth Day and take some actions to re-attach your backyard to the rest of the world? Sweep fertilizer off the walks and hard surfaces to prevent runoff. Better yet, forgo the use of chemical fertilizers this year. Think twice about watering your lawn and wasting all that water. Perhaps you and your kids can plan and build a newly landscaped area using native plants that don't need additional sources of water and fertilizer. Leave the weed killers and insect sprays alone for a year.

Newspapers and magazines today are filled with good practical suggestions about things we can all do to save the planet. Take your stand in your one single patch of the environment and re-connect it to the wider natural world. Most important, use it as an opportunity to re-connect your children and grandchildren to the environment in their own backyard.

In this way, "going green" can be your children's patrimony. A sense of environmental stewardship can be the greatest Father's Day gift of all.

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