From My WindowIssue Date: August 9, 2017
Think Global, Act Local - In Your Own Backyard
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
I am a nature-lover, from a lineage of nature lovers, and am proud to say the family generation after mine is carrying on this tradition as well. I am deeply concerned about the plight of our oceans, our remaining wilderness areas, and much of our wildlife " birds, insects, reptiles, fish and animals as well. Sometimes, it is frustrating to feel like you are so powerless to do something about the clear threats they, and we humans, are facing, but then I recover my equilibrium when I have the chance to do something that might make a tiny difference for the better in my own backyard.
I have given up trying to raise most vegetables here, in the high heat and with the need for nearly continuous watering to sustain plant life in the summer. But I do have a thriving little herb garden " parsley, sage, thyme, spearmint, basil, dill, and rosemary. But every year, about this time in mid-summer, I find my formerly healthy parsley plant nearly bare and large, green, black and white caterpillars stripping what little foliage is left. It seems like this attack occurs with the speed of a Kamikaze " one day the plant is fine and healthy, the next it is nearly completely consumed.
I used to pick off the caterpillars to save the parsley, but then I found out that they were most likely Swallowtail Butterflies in the making, and stopped protecting the plant. After all, I have plenty of dried parsley on hand and if I really need fresh, I can buy a bunch at the store. I can't buy a butterfly at the store, and it is all too apparent from scientific studies that these magical creatures are under pressure, with their numbers collapsing rapidly. I stopped thinking of the parsley as "mine" and started thinking of it as butterfly food.
A friend at work gave me a few tiny brown seeds to his fennel plant a couple of years ago. Fennel is a perennial herb, about the size of a healthy dill plant. It looks quite similar to dill, with delicate "frond" style leaves, except the foliage, at least on the variety I have, is a dark purplish-green. (For those of you not familiar with fennel, you've probably tasted it in the high-quality Italian sausage on a well-made pizza. It has a sweet taste very similar to black licorice.) A few weeks ago I was admiring my fennel when I actually saw a female Black Swallowtail, gorgeous in the sunlight, laying eggs on the plant. Sure enough, a few days ago I counted 23 caterpillars, with apparently healthy appetites, demolishing the fennel.
I was delighted, and noted my dill plant, just a few feet away, was host to just a couple more, while my parsley has so far been left untouched. Clearly, additional fennel planting is the way to go to please family-minded Black Swallowtails. With our move to Wisconsin less than a year away, I will collect seeds from my fennel this fall and try to establish a patch at my new home for the utilization of the butterflies.
My son's father-in-law, also a bit of a naturalist, walked through our horse pasture recently and confirmed we have some Oklahoma native-species milkweed plants. (These look different from Wisconsin milkweed, but they are utilized by Monarch butterflies the same way.) He asked to dig up a plant to transfer to his property in the hopes of spreading additional milkweed to help the beleaguered Monarchs. We happily obliged and he reported that while it initially seemed to have died after transplant, it has come roaring back to life and hopefully will spread at his house. (My husband suspected these plants were a species of milkweed, and he brush-hogs around them.) Monarchs are picky. They MUST have milkweed, or the species will die.
I really can't do much about the ice collapse that is imminently threatening the survival of the polar bear, an iconic and keystone species. But I can quit using straws for drinks to reduce the plastic waste I personally generate, some of which ends up in our oceans. I can be efficient about running errands so my car spends more time parked and less time running, to preserve our atmosphere. And I can cede my herb garden to the butterflies so that someday, hopefully, my beautiful Granddaughter can marvel at the butterflies at both of her grandparent's homes " in Oklahoma and in Wisconsin.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.
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