I recently read this NYT article on the artist Maya Lin and her current projects one of which is this website: whatismissing.net * not sure why, but site animation seems to be not working today. Keep trying! * It seems that her work of the last years has taken on a decidedly environmental focus, and within that, the focus on raising awareness for the natural world that is literally under our feet whether it be here in Chicago, New York or the Midwestern farmlands.
Her What is Missing site has tiny wavering dots of light that you can click on to reveal various natural history facts and quotes relevant to a particular geographic area. One of the first dots I clicked on, of course, was for the Chicago area, and it opened to a 1948 quote from naturalist and conservationist Aldo Leopold:
"The shrinkage in the flora is due to a combination clean farming, woodlot grazing and good roads. Each of these necessary changes of course requires a reduction in the acreage available for wild plants, but none of them requires, or benefits by, the erasure by whole farms, townships or counties. There are idle spots on every farm, and every highway is bordered by an idle strip as long as it is; keep cow, plow, and mower out of these idles spots, and the full native flora, plus dozens of interesting stowaways from foreign parts, could be part of the normal environment of every citizen."
Leopold was ahead of his time in teaching us to value these idle spots, as well as habitats that, at the time, were greatly undervalued: marshes, bogs, prairies. It's no secret that our environment is in big, critical trouble. Yes. There is a crisis. That said, I try not to give in to despair. What I find moving about the quote from Leopold (and Lin's site) is that it points to how even the most banal of spaces are worthy of our care, and can be cultivated for native habitat and allowed the potential to heal. When the big picture is pretty scary and overwhelming, not giving in to despair, at least for me, may mean focusing on how we can heal, value, and cultivate what is right under our feet.
* Above image is a still courtesy of whatismissing.net.