By Jim Poling Sr.
My lawnmower has been put away for the winter. I doubt if I’ll bring it out next spring.
This year I didn’t cut the grass until well into June. It grew to a foot high with native grasses and weeds.
The idea was to allow the grass to get a firm, healthy footing before being mowed. The result was a surprise: everything in the lawn grew tall and healthy, and some tiny but beautiful flowers bloomed.
Among the blooms were five-petalled purple wild violets that had drifted in on the wind and taken hold in the lawn. Along with, of course, the white clover hated by many lawn enthusiasts.
These flowers attracted pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
What I saw in my uncut lawn helped me to understand the movement to make our landscapes more natural. It’s called rewilding and can take many forms, but, simply put, it is about making our environments, and our lifestyles, more natural.
Rewilding projects are as small as letting your lawn grow naturally, and as big as reintroducing large mammals to places where they once were numerous. For instance, Rewilding Europe is working to establish herds of bison in parts of Europe where they once existed.
Scientists say that large mammals such as bison, deer, moose and lions act as landscape engineers, shaping the composition of plant life and wildlife – from birds and aquatic creatures to trees and soil organisms. They are an important part of natural processes that alleviate damage created by unhealthy greenhouse gases causing global warming.
Meanwhile, I saw my uncut lawn as prettier and more useful to the environment than a mowed one.
There are an estimated one-quarter billion lawns in North America – 230 million in the United States, six million plus in Canada and some in Mexico, although Mexicans are not nearly as enamoured with them as we are.
That’s a lot of lawns, but there will be fewer in the future. More people are seeing lawns for what they really are – water hungry monocultures devoid of any plant diversity and insect life. They are outdated symbols of the past and a sign of our disconnection from nature.
Lawns began appearing in 17th century England when aristocrats were rich enough to manicure their land for display, instead of farming it for food.
By the 1950s, manicured lawns became symbols of the good life in North American suburbs. Along with green grass that did nothing except look pretty and drink water came lawnmowers, trimmers, blowers, chemical fertilizers and weed killers.
Letting your lawn return to a natural state is not easy, and likely won’t make you popular with your neighbours. However, it can be done on a small scale, one piece of lawn at a time turned into a patch of wildflowers.
It’s all about creating more diversity – helping populations of insects, animals, fish and birds recover. More natural populations of these creatures help to reduce the damage of atmospheric carbon.
Before there is any rewilding of a yard, field or anything else there has to be human rewilding. That involves undoing the unhealthy practices of today and going back to more natural ways of living.
Human rewilding doesn’t mean we need to revert to wearing animal skins and living in caves. It means thinking about how to live with less of what we want and don’t really need.
One thing we do really need is food, and food equality, yet despite all the advances in agriculture, growing enough nutritious food to feed a growing world population is becoming a worry.
Matthew Evans, author of Soil: The incredible story of what keeps the earth, and us, healthy, writes that between polluting/poisoning of the land and erosion, the world has lost an estimated one-third of its cropland in the last 40 years.
He notes research that says arable land per capita has been declining since 1984, and so have grain and fish production per capita.
We never will eliminate all the waste and pollution that we create. However, by changing our thinking about what we really need, we can work to ensure that pollution and waste don’t grow faster than nature can absorb, recycle or neutralize them.