I grew up in a very boring and somewhat soul-less suburb, next to a six lane highway in a house that looked like the little green plastic houses that came with the board game Monopoly. It was a remarkably uninspiring landscape.
I always dreamt of living SOMEWHERE else. Those dreams included gorgeous mountaintops, or open fields of prairie grass, or forests lush with green leaves. In sixth grade, when all the rest of my friends predicted in our yearbook they’d live in mansions and drive Maseratis and Porsches, I wrote that I wanted to live without a car in the Rockies.
I guess I wanted a life like Laura Ingalls in the Little House Books. But life takes you places you don’t expect. Turns out I actually like the amenities of the city. Museums are cool. There’s a lot of stuff to do. And there are more jobs in the city for writers than there are in the country. So, as an adult I ended up first in urban Baltimore, then in Washington, DC.
I liked the walk-ability of this city; I bought a car, but tried not to drive it. (Gotta love mass transit.) I realized how much I liked the diversity of the people here, and its vibrant downtown energy. I liked being in a place where people made small talk about current events. I liked walking down the street and hearing people speaking a half dozen different languages on each block. I liked going to farmer’s markets and museums and yummy restaurants. There’s a lot here for someone who likes to think about the worlds’ big problems and issues.
One problem, though. In my heart, I was still the girl who wanted to run down the mountainside or count acorns and catch butterflies. And travelling to far away beautiful places wasn’t always in the budget. Living close in the city was sanity-preserving and crazy-making all at the same time. Sometimes looking at all of the litter, cement and buildings was tiresome.
For the sake of my own sanity, I began to realize that I could tweek even tiniest rental yards in to wildlife sanctuaries. As a gardener I became passionate about native plants, and found myself drawn to making the yard a place where all kinds of birds, insects and even toads would want to live. Butterflies and hummingbirds came to the most unexpected places, if I knew how to provide habitat for them. Going out to my own backyard with a cup of coffee became like a retreat to a mini nature sanctuary, even when my own yard was only a few feet wide.
I wasn’t living in a bucolic environment, but my environmental awareness led me to see the beauty in the natural world close at hand. I rekindled the love of nature that my parents had fostered in my heart as a kid. It was nice to live close into the city because it meant living lightly on the land – I liked that I wasn’t adding to sprawl or making a long, tiring, commute via car.
I learned to grow where I was planted in every since of the phrase – I learned to how to grow plants that would thrive in DC’s climate and I also learned how to grow in my knowledge of the natural world. I stopped thinking life could be better in a different environment and began to make the one around me better, in my own tiny way.
In the process of teaching friends and neighbors how to foster their own wildlife sanctuaries on their city lots, I found a lot to write about. The result was a column in the local newspaper and then, later, this blog.
I hope you’ll find useful information here about fostering wildlife habitat in the city – whether you live in DC or another city somewhere else in the world.