Trading Hope and Despair For Restoration

‘As we make life better for ourselves, let’s not overlook making life possible for others.’ ~ Unknown

When You Believe It, You’ll See It

Environmental issues are often promoted through fear-to-action, dire news fed through a computer or TV screen about all the damage we’ve done. In church, people speak in more hushed tones about our changing home; they clasp hands together in prayer for God to make things better. They are filled with hope. For actionable change, neither of these models is particularly effective.

Volunteering and restoration forms my world view. Any work in the past with teachers or children has been with a naturalist lens in hand, working with Nature rather than against it, helping Nature rather than destroying it. The District being what it is quickly reversed any appreciable gains I may have made in three years, and today, as my work with children continues, you can bet it is no longer sieved through the 7th largest school district in Texas.

It is by first believing in Nature’s complicated yet perfectly tuned life systems that a reverence for connectedness begins to take hold. Centuries ago as religious texts were being written, we knew little of how life really worked. Only through modern methods of understanding through observation (yeah, science!) have we been able to improve an understanding of how life systems on Earth support us, of our effect upon others.

Sadly, any successful efforts we may have made to improve our own conditions have also resulted in catastrophe for so many others (not human) who call this Earth home. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the current trajectory of future generations of people on Earth is not looking great, and seeing the whole picture can leave us overwhelmed, heart-broken, frozen into a state of inaction. How is little ole me gonna make a difference with that huge task?

I’m no doom-and-gloom pessimist, nor do I find comfort with organized religion. Engaging through action is how I see visible, tangible results. It’s easy to ignore the environmental rhetoric when I’m too busy being the change! Education and outreach, particularly with children, keep optimism firmly intact, and it is only through action with restoration that most promotes the biodiversity communities so desperately need.

Do as I do, not as I say. At 150+ new species and counting for one small restoration space two years in, seeing really is believing! It’s true that when you build it, they will come.

Just STOP: A Minimalist Way To Change

In the decade since that fateful post that began this blog, I have learned a lot. Instead of looking to neighbors and private or government organizations to get big things done, believe that only we individuals are Nature’s collective lobby. Simply put, it’s easier to embrace changes headlong with passion and a smile, boots and gloves on, purpose and intent for the small jobs than it is to write thoughtful letters to congressmen or keep up the newest development moving in. Nature needs warriors who are ready for action, our optimism fully intact.

(Remember: Our kids are watching us.)

Change is ever-present. And the best forms of environmental activism are first addressed at home, starting with the word stop.

STOP … mechanically tearing at or concreting over everything, sterilizing that which sustains us: living, breathing, life-giving soil.

STOP … consuming so much stuff that becomes waste for the landfill or single-source can; refuse, reduce, and rot go before reuse. Recycling is the absolute last resort.

STOP … killing anything outside indiscriminately and unnecessarily that upsets Nature’s balance even more [than you likely already caused].

STOP … obsessing over foreign turf grasses and 1950’s ideas of ‘pretty.’

STOP … lighting everything up like a football stadium every night. Everything living is evolved to the rhythm of day and night, even us.

STOP … weeding, pruning, micro-managing and an obsessive taming of Nature. Learn natural cycles.

STOP … buying weeds (a/k/a/ plants out-of-place, natives to Africa, China) at box stores each spring and fall, not just the P’s (petunias, periwinkles, pansies) grown in greenhouses that provide no value for wildlife.

STOP … the unnecessary dependence upon domesticated and farmed animals, currently outnumbering us nearly 2 to 1. As more people get back to eating more efficiently, our land, streams, rivers, and oceans can begin the long haul to recovery.

ACTION: Tiny Improvements for the Lives of Others

Once you’ve fully grasped the Stop List above, go a little further. These are the little things each of us can do. Pick one, check the box, then pick another, and so forth. Before you know it, life as it once was returns with great gusto.

Provide water. Whether it is a slow drip or bath (for birds) or a shallow dish (for insects), a reliable source of water does more than just fulfill your visual enjoyment from indoors. It is necessary for all terrestrial life to survive and thrive. The winged things will find it.

Build a bee hotel. In warmer regions like mine, most native bees live underground, but there are many winged creatures who prefer to nest and winter via above-ground means. You can use old logs, pithy grass or bamboo stems, even rolled up cardboard. Some are extravagant, like in Tanja’s post!

Tolerate the wasp. I’m not asking you to love them like I do, but at least recognize and accept their importance in your suburban ecosystem. They are not evil, do not seek you out specifically to sting you, and they do a great service in keeping ‘pest’ insects in check. They are easily relocated alive from the inside to outside with a little kindness (and some jelly).


[Email readers: Catch and Release Wasp is an embedded YouTube video which can be viewed at the blog.]

Eat your veggies. We are evolved and built as omnivores, and yes, we can survive and even thrive on plants. Consider your choices one at a time. (Here’s a start.) Many of the most healthy edibles you can grow easily in your own yard, right alongside your bee and butterfly food.

Think beyond Honeybee. Recognize native pollinators in your backyard and just beyond; learn what they like to eat. (Hint: Go native!). You can explore iNaturalist by selecting Bees for your county. Click Species to sort them, see who and where they are. The good news is that by conserving and protecting the local populations of native wildlife, Apis mellifera, the foreigner responsible for our introduced food crops, also benefits. Visit Xerxes Society, the bee experts.

Convert a landscape into a wildscape. In the region which is coastal prairie ecosystem where I live, that means pocket prairie. Wherever you are, learn which plants grow locally (natives also support wildlife), then give them a home in your own yard. CAUTION: The process of restoration can become positively addictive. Need help? Train to become a Master Naturalist in your state.


[Email readers: Meet Your Neighbors! is an embedded YouTube video which can be viewed at the blog.]

Collect wildflower seeds. While forcing you outside and away from the TV or computer screen, it also helps you learn the local flora of your favorite outdoor spaces. Name it first — binomial genus and species please! — then collect a seed head or two (not more than 20% of the plant’s seeds) for relocation in your own garden at home. It’s free.

Learn like a child. Before we became adults, we were children full of wonderment for our world. Over decades, we have been taught to fear and loathe and fix things that as children we would never have done. See through the eyes of a child exploring his world outdoors for the first time, without your fears or misunderstandings infused into him. Be in awe of the little things.

What small changes have you done to help wildlife?

Thank you, fellow bloggers Tanja, Steve, and Linda for the gentle kick in the pants. Happy (belated ) New Year!

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13 thoughts on “Trading Hope and Despair For Restoration

  1. Hey friend… life has been crazy so your post has been sitting in my Inbox until today. I loved your words. Thank you so much for the things you do and for the reminders and educating others. They are wise words. ❤️❤️❤️

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    1. Aw hey Kimber! So good to see you again! This blog is my comfort zone, you could say, it’s where I go to make sense of the crazy, wonderful world I live in day after day. Today, I got to enjoy 125 fourth grade students outside, watching them engage with nature and ask incessant questions. Chaos never felt so good! It’s the first time I’ve been with big groups of kids since early 2020. Be well! Life is looking up again.

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  2. Now and then I’m reminded of the old saying about everything old being new again. Much of what you’ve written here could have come right out of Neltje Blanchan’s book Nature’s Garden. Published in 1900 (!) it’s a wonderful exploration, species by species, of the relationship between native plants and the insects who visit them. If you don’t know it, there are plenty of used copies around, and I believe it might have been reprinted as a paperback.

    Somewhat ironically, perhaps, it was my Vacation Bible School that was responsible for my first, early interest in the natural world. I might have been in third grade when I teachers had the brilliant idea to use the hymn “This is My Father’s World” as the theme for our week. Each day, we took a phrase or two from the hymn — like, “in the rustling grass I hear Him pass” — and headed outdoors. On that day, we searched out different grasses, learned their names, and so on. It was a theology of creation, writ small, and I’ve never forgotten it. However children are introduced to nature, it’s the introduction that counts.

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      1. Oh, how I love that description. I’ll add that hope without action allows others who may not have the same goals as you drive the result. Hope and prayer only works when people are willing to put a little work into it. For me anyway, it is in doing the work that results in hope, not the other way around. Be well!

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      2. I came across this yesterday in an article. I agree completely, and think you might find it congenial, too:

        “The reason you cannot talk about hope — or rather, cannot describe the action it takes — is this: Hope is not a program for reform, a solution to implement, or a prescription to follow. To borrow from the farmer and writer Wendell Berry, hope means ‘work for the present,’ whereas optimism means ‘making up a version of the future.’”

        I’ve always thought optimism and hope were different, but couldn’t quite put my finger on the difference. Berry’s words do it.

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    1. I was first a student of my conservationist grandfather before the prairie grabbed me. Yes. These are not old ways, just forgotten ones. I will look for Blanchan’s book! When I was a kid, tending a garden at church was part of the Sunday and mid-week lessons; we grew both food and plants for insects. Sadly, that does not appear to be the case anymore, at least where I reside. Thank you so much for your continued inspiration through your blog’s writings, photos, and Nature’s associations. You are a naturalist already, Linda.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Shannon,
    Thank you for your life- and hope-affirming words and works, as well as your impassioned plea for all our neighbors. The embedded videos are not only beautiful, they demonstrate the amazing variety that surrounds us if we only give it a chance–and the right plants.
    I wish you continued success with your wonderful restoration projects,
    Tanja

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    1. Your bee hotel post was just the kick-in-the-pants I needed to get this one out of the drafts folder. Not a lot of time these days for blogging, but this stuff is important to get out there. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

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