Monday, May 19, 2008

act locally

We found treasure in the bushes by our house.
I glanced at the leaves while with Lucy on our daily walk, and saw a flash of gold.
With black spots on it.
A ladybug! A golden (yellow/orange) ladybug!
Didn't know they came in colors other than yellow, but I pointed it out to Lucy, let it crawl on my hand for a little while, then placed it back on its leaf and went on for the rest of the walk.
When we came back that way on our way home, L kept pointing to the bushes, so I went to the place I thought we'd left it and--
I found it again! I was so proud of my tracking skills!
Until we found it again and again and again.
Turns out there are a lot of ladybugs in the bushes.
So, every day after, we've walked past, admired the ladybugs, invited a few for a sojourn on our hands, and placed them carefully back on their bushes. Lucy loves it, though she keeps calling them "ants".
But. Two days ago, when we walked by, we heard a huge buzzing noise and saw a pile of fresh bush clippings on the sidewalk.
Trimming time.
My first thought: Oh no! The ladybugs are going to all fly away! Their ecosystem is in peril!
My second thought: Insects definitely outnumber us on this earth. And a suburban eucalpytus bush next to an apartment complex doesn't really count as an ecosystem. Does it?
Anyway, I told myself that surely the ladybugs would still be there. Not to fret.
Except--I was wrong. Their number is greatly diminished.
Not sure if the weed whacker scared them away, or if they got stuffed into trash bags or what, but there are definitely less then there were.
It made me sort of sad. I know that the HOA's around here have to make sure the sidewalks are passable, but the ladybugs! Their ecosystem!
It also made me think about why there is so much environmental degredation going on around in our world. Seriously.
I only noticed these bugs because I'm going at a toddler's pace, and because I happen to know this one bug's name, and what they're like (harmless to humans, bad for aphids).
But I feel embarrassed every morning when we walk and we see plants or bushes or birds and I say, "Look! A...bird! It's got...feathers! Brownish ones! And a plant! Of Some Kind!" Then I see a pigeon, and I shout, with some releif, "A pigeon! In its natural ecosystem!" I love birdwatching!

Growing up in Tucson, I felt like I knew the plants, knew the lay of the land, because I spent time in the desert, in the washes, and we learned about it in school. I got no such training when we moved to CA. I think it's a loss.
I like reading Wendell Berry (sometimes--sometimes he's too curmudgeonly) and one of the things I admire about him is that he is committed to his community, and the land that hosts his community. He knows where he's from. He knows how to make land productive. He knows when it changes and why. He's a farmer. He notices the changes in his town, in the small towns around him, because he's lived there for a long time.
Whereas me, I feel like an old-timer in our neighborhood because we've been here a stunning six years. Or an old-timer in our city because I've lived here almost 20 years. Whoopee!
How can any of us really see changes, see disintegration if we don't really know our land, the animals that coexist close to us, or even the people around us? If we're so cut off from nature that seeing a ladybug in a bush is surprising?

I did something either fabulous or foolhardy this weekend: I planted a garden. It is three feet by three feet, and I have planted three different crops thus far (Crops! I planted crops!). Onions, fennel, and basil. I also plan on peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, and maybe garlic and thyme and potatoes.
I'm hoping something comes up, that I get some kind of vegetables. Part of me just wants to have some idea how nature works. What kind of system it is. Like going out and watering my little patch of earth is a way of extending a hand and saying, "Hi! My name is Heather and I'm sorry I have killed so many plants in previous gardening attempts, but I read a book! Wait, don't laugh! I want to get to know you! I have good intentions of keeping these plants watered! Alive, I don't promise, but watered!"
I guess the garden is hopefully some way of paying more attention, and maybe noticing a little bit more. And helping Lucy to notice. And also figure out where things like tomatoes come from.
And maybe some of those ladybugs will hop the fence and come visit, sometime.

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