Monday, January 18, 2010

a tribute to all things small...

A real test for the limits of one's empathic spectrum is whether a person can seriously care about the smallest creatures of the planet: the insects, the microorganisms, the creatures that fill in the cracks of creation - or rather, from perhaps a more enlightened point of view, hold the whole thing together.

There are two people in Kalamazoo who have devoted more time, care and attention to this spectrum of creation than anyone else I know. Those two people are sadly only one now. 

With the recent passing of Nancy Cutbirth Small, Kalamazoo lost a real champion of the creatures of the Earth, both plant and animal. Nancy and her husband Tom's passion and commitment to the restoration of wild spaces, particularly the yards in our community, and how it can restore biodiversity, is testament to a rare love of creation and all it's tenants. 

If you read Nancy's obituary, you'll understand she spared no compassion and concern for humans either. Nancy stood for peace and justice on behalf of the Iraqi people. 

My appreciation for Nancy and Tom's work with Wild Ones, and protecting wild spaces, evolved late in our relationship as friends, since I knew both of them years ago through the Whole Art Theater. We rediscovered each other after our passions for the wild had evolved along separate, parallel paths. As I was tracking down urban animals, in many cases the "charismatic megafauna", Tom and Nancy were kindling the fires of a landscaping revolution, celebrating and defending native plants and wildlife in our lawns and gardens. When we re-discovered each other as urban environmentalists, our complimentary passions resonated with each other.* It was Nancy and Tom's appreciation of the smaller spectrum of creation that really challenged my own view of the ecosystem and all it's component parts.

It was the passion and conviction in Nancy's voice (and that unmistakable laugh), when she spoke in defense of the wild, that always moved me, particularly the fire in her condemnation of selfish or senseless human endeavors. She defended the most defenseless beings in our community. And her defense didn't have to relate back to an animal or plants significance to our own well being. Nancy would defend a butterfly simply for it's right to exist. That is a true love of creation. 

If you knew Nancy and would like to honor her, I suggest either a donation to the Kalamazoo Chapter of Wild Ones, which she and Tom founded, or, if you're truly inspired, consider converting your lawn into a native prairie. In doing so, I'm sure a part of Nancy's spirit will be growing in your own yard.

*I was fortunate enough to collaborate with Nancy and Tom recently in documenting a presentation by Douglas Tallamy at the Kalamazoo Nature Center on native gardening. That video will be broadcast, and made available on DVD, very soon. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

BIG Piece of the Wild

I've been delinquent in posting for a very good reason: I've been out in Oregon exploring the North West Coast with my girlfriend; and you can say one thing about me: I've got my priorities straight. For the past couple weeks I've been "unplugged" in a very good way - it was a vacation, and rather than writing about the natural world, I was enjoying it.

This also explains the staling nature of my previous post: trying to sell copies of my Colony Farm Orchard DVD as Christmas presents, which is especially old news since Governor Granholm has since signed legislation (House Bill 5207) officially lifting restrictions on the Orchard and allowing WMU to expand the BTR Park onto the property. The time sensitive nature of my Orchard video is now passed, making a second installment all the more necessary.

I must say, exploring the Cascades Mountains, the high desert, the extraordinary forests, and the epic Oregon coast was truly experiencing a BIG piece of the wild. Aside from a particularly heightened consciousness of crows in the city of Portland--mainly because of the great book Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt--I wasn't tuning in to the urban animals of Oregon. Rather, I was indulging in what I now consider the more enriching expanses of wilderness that the urban wilderness merely echoes or approximates. I was in 1,000 acre preserves and million acre forests; I was gazing out on pounding surfs, vertical rock faces, and an ocean horizon that extends way, way beyond the curvature of Lake Michigan. It was vast and extremely compelling.

That's not to take away from the urban wild and the gifts it offers, even in it's "littleness". On the contrary, it reinforces the need for our near-by connections to the greater natural world; our need for urban parks and woods and wildlife. Our little pieces of the wild are the daily doses of nature that tide us over until we can satiate ourselves in a more profound and lasting way in the humbling and inspiring expanses of our state and national parks and forests.