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April 2020 Update

Our latest article to share – At the bottom of this page, please see the short article about finding nature in our own yards, and share it as widely as possible.

Garden centers are open and brimming with native plants! Most of the garden centers have posted their steps to ensure social distancing. Let’s make this the best year ever for planting native plants!

- Nature by Design has curbside pickup, and plenty of same-day browsing appointments are always available. Just give them a ring.

- Earth Sangha is offering free delivery.

- Watermark Woods offers curbside pickup as well as browsing.

Each garden center has its own arrangement – check their websites. Our volunteers have been able to put our red Northern Virginia Native stickers on the native plants at many of them.

Sustainable Landscaping Solutions for Faith Communities videoconference – Sunday, June 14 2pm – 4:30 pm. Join us as we discuss how and why faith communities are using their places of worship to demonstrate stewardship of the Earth. Details and registration here.

Please share this announcement with anyone you know who attends a faith community.

Speakers bureau –We can speak to your group via videoconferencing. Topics include pollinator gardens, tree management, gardening for birds, conventional-but-environmentally-friendly landscaping and many more. Learn more here.

Two advocacy trainings from the Audubon Naturalist Society (there is a small fee)

· Couch Advocacy 101: How to Be an Environmental Advocate During a Pandemic Tuesday, April 28; 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM Learn how to advocate effectively for the environment and to take action on environmental issues while being physically distant from others as we battle this global pandemic.

· Conservation Advocacy 101 for HOAs and Condo Associations Thursday, May 14; 10am – 11:30am or Wednesday, June 17; 7pm – 8:30pm We can act locally in our own communities to create change. Lear how you can make a difference. You'll get a chance to think about your own community, begin developing your own action plan, and participate in breakout discussions.

Next Steering Committee meeting – via videoconferencing – All are welcome. May 26 at 10:30 am. Details on our Event Calendar.

This month’s newsletter article to share – Please distribute as widely as possible. Use this link for social media.

Stay-at-Homeschooling for Grown-Ups

We have all heard of naturalists such as Charles Darwin and James Audubon who undertook long and fruitful journeys of discovery. But did you know that many naturalists made their famous discoveries in their own yards? For example, Jean-Henri Fabre spent decades at his home in France on a small plot of hard scrabble where he documented numerous observations of insect behavior that are still read today for their wit as well as their fascinating conclusions about instinct and intelligence. The same opportunities for adventure are available to any of us who have access to any space - however small - where plants can grow.

You might think that by now the millions of human beings who live in our region would have figured out all there is to know about the local flora and fauna, but that is far from the case. Not only are new species being discovered all the time, but there is very little known about many of the ones we do recognize. Why not try your hand at natural science? Unlike Jean-Henri, who mostly had to go it alone, we have the ability to crowd-source our learning process by way of a giant citizen science project called iNaturalist. Who knows, you may be the next to discover a new species!

For most of us, however, the adventure will lie not in rarities but in finally noticing the common plants and animals in our yard which have been there all along. The joy will come not so much from our contributions to science – which are real if we document life on iNaturalist or on any of a number of other citizen science projects – but from witnessing how many more things there are in heaven and earth than were dreamt of in our philosophy.

The main tool needed for this exploration is patience. A small yard may be home to hundreds or thousands of species, but they will not all present themselves at once. Plants of course emerge and develop over the growing season. Animals also emerge at different times, and many remain hidden from view. As you amble around your yard, take a close look at every little moving object. You will find that what you had assumed were identical little specks are in fact many different species going about their business. A camera, even a cell phone camera, can show you the details of pattern and color that your eye cannot register during your brief encounters. There is something irresistibly calming in watching this world at work.

If you have the opportunity to compare your yard to a neighbor’s, you may notice a pattern. Yards that appear lush to the modern eye are sometimes just Potemkin landscapes, ones where humans have labored to exclude nature by substituting ecologically useless (or even harmful) plants for the natives, removing the life-giving detritus, and attacking the remaining residents with chemicals. Even in yards such as those, signs of life will be stirring. But where such chemicals are avoided and where native plants are encouraged, a yard will support a cornucopia of animation, from tiny beetles to nesting songbirds. It is not difficult to create a yard with these happy conditions. To borrow a quote from suffragist Sarah Grimké, writing in 1837, “All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy.”

Between April 24 and 27, people all over the world are coming together to document life on Earth. These are the four days of the annual City Nature Challenge, which in previous years has included a friendly competition between metropolitan areas but this year is simply a celebration of life and unity. We can contribute to the festivities by snapping photos of any wild plants or animals and uploading them to iNaturalist. How many native plants can you spot in your neighborhood? How many bees, birds and other critters can you spot taking advantage of them? Once you have caught the nature bug and find yourself longing for more, you can learn how to add those native plants that support the life on your property by visiting Garden centers – including several that specialize in native plants – are open and ready to help you choose the best ones for your situation.

The education we can soak in from the ecosystem of our yards goes far beyond a science lesson. We may observe that the natural world is at least as much about cooperation and accommodation as it is about tooth and claw. To recognize our fellow beings as individuals, each with the same claim on life as our own; to witness the interdependence of us all in our unfathomable complexity; to start to see our place in the universe – all these experiences wash away our tension and plant in us the seeds of compassion. It goes without saying that it is not just grown-ups who can benefit from these lessons.


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