April 20, 2018

My Earth Day

Do it. Get outside. Walk, listen, smell, touch. Take a magnifying glass and look up close, like the wood betony pictured here. Examine. Consider. 

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Peter Forbes, who has been working at the intersection of people, nature, and communities for some time, has said that we can recognize 1,000 brands but cannot name 10 plants native to our region. Do you think he’s right? Can you name ten plants native to Chicagoland?

Did you know that the name Chicago comes from the Pottawatomi word Che-ca-gou for the nodding wild onion that grew in profusion along the riverbanks and that grows here still?

Tomorrow and Sunday, in celebration of Earth Day, I will be volunteering in the Cook County forest preserves to restore precious remnants of our natural heritage — our prairies, oak woods, and wetlands. This work of habitat restoration is not only good for nature; it’s good for us — restoring our bodies and our spirits. This work of habitat restoration places us in “right relationship” to the land. We become not mere users or abusers of natural resources, but caring stewards, caring kin.

Often, in the daunting face of climate change, we ask ourselves, “What can one person do?” Writer and philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore answered in a recent interview, “Stop being one person.” 

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Join a community, she says. Act together. In my experience, this work of habitat restoration is what we can do together to make the place where we live more resilient, healthier, better for plants and animals and people. There are opportunities all over Cook County. Here are a few places to look for them:

Oh yes, permit me to introduce you, then, to 10 of our neighbors:

  • Cream wild indigo
  • Blazing star
  • Sneezeweed
  • Bastard toadflax
  • Rattlesnake master
  • Purple Joe Pye weed
  • Bloodroot
  • Zig-zag goldenrod
  • Compass plant
  • New Jersey tea

Say their names out loud. (It’s fun.) Look for them in coming months in restored areas of our forest preserves. Welcome each other home.

Let’s close out with Mary Oliver, grand poet of wet and wild lands:

“The world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. ‘Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?’”