Lightening Our Footprint BLOG

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October 20, 2019

by Bea Heissler

In 2006, I took early retirement from a position in outdoor education to start a native plant nursery in Frankford, Ontario. For those who recognize the importance of biodiversity and wanted to turn their yards into havens for wildlife, it was hard to find plants native to this general area. So, I did my research, found suppliers, did some seed collection and embarked on my lifelong love of working in the soil.

Every day has been a learning experience. I learned quickly that with native plant species you need to consider the seasonal cycles and habitats to which they’re adapted. Many take a couple of years to germinate. Some require ants. It was important to “think” like the plant and understand the many interactions it goes through within its natural environment.

I also learned that there is very limited interest in naturalization of yards. So, my small fruit and vegetable garden expanded into a market gardening venture. The cold frame greenhouse we put up in October to start native plants the following Spring became an attractive site to try growing our own greens and other hardy vegetables through the winter.

My upbringing on a farm with many natural areas and my background in Biology has made me aware of the phenomenal interactions that take place within a biodiverse community. It has also helped me recognize the damage we have done to the fragile ecological balance that took millions of years to develop. Though we have done considerable damage to the environment, I believe there is a bright future ahead if we become truly aware of our place within the natural world.

As we wake up to the climate crisis of today, we need to remind ourselves that we have the power to make a difference, not only by getting out there and demanding government action but by stepping outside our door, reconnecting with Nature and discovering who we really are. Nature is our best teacher, always there, quietly guiding those who are willing to be guided.

Start by taking a deep breath. The air we breathe is made up of particles as old as the universe. Our bodies are made up of atoms forged inside stars that exploded billions of years ago. Everything in and around us, from our complex bodies to the rocks, the soil, the atmosphere, to the water that falls from clouds, trickles down through rivers and through our veins is part of a much bigger picture. We are ONE with all that is. We begin to understand this when we make real contact with the Earth, a place where we are no greater or lesser than any other creature. We each have our place, our purpose within the whole. Until we understand this deeply, there is no solution to our environmental crisis. Research being done through McGill University indicates that there is a brighter future for humanity when we recognize this. https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/channels/news/our-future-doesnt-have-be-dismal-263225

Everything is made up of atoms that are constantly being rearranged into different molecules and ultimately different forms. Plants use sunlight energy to rearrange carbon dioxide and water molecules into sugar and oxygen. We breathe in oxygen and eat fruits and vegetables for the sunlight energy captured by the plants and then release carbon dioxide and water back into the atmosphere. There is no waste in the natural environment. Over millions of years, a natural balance developed that has supported a phenomenal diversity of life. The human species is part of that diversity. What sets humans apart is our ability to systematically rearrange these atoms to suit our own purposes. We have used our superior intelligence at the expense of other life. Arrogance and greed have brought us and all of Nature to a place of crisis. With humility and deep understanding, we can take the conscious approach in which we work with Nature to return to a state of balance.

Planting trees is an easy way to start. Trees are the most efficient way of removing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it into mass and oxygen. If every person on Earth planted at least one tree without living in a way that involves removing another living tree, there would be a real impact. We do need mature trees for building material but we can consciously ensure these are replaced by simply planting young trees. Planting trees is a gift to future generations as the little tree we plant today may grow for hundreds of years. Taking on a tree planting initiative could start an effective grassroots movement of little cost and effort. Every municipality could provide a site for people who have no yards to plant trees native to the area. Every time we plant a tree, we make that important connection with the Earth, one that needs to be nurtured in the very young and throughout our lives.

Trees attract birds and other wildlife. Our yards, towns and cities would become dynamic areas of biodiversity and we would soon begin to recognize that what is good for the environment is good for our own well-being.