BECOME ACTIVE IN LOCAL ECOLOGY
One of the most rewarding ways to participate in nature is to become active in local ecology. To do this, it partly involves a shift away from the current paradigm of a hands-off approach to nature. Public parks have popularized the phrase “take only pictures, leave only footprints,” and this is reasonable advice for those places that see large numbers of visitors each year. Unfortunately, this “look but don’t touch” attitude toward nature has been applied too extensively, and people mistakenly believe that all wild beings are better off without any human interaction. However, there exist many examples showing that conscientious use of plants by people is beneficial for those species. Further, experientially learning the uses of wild plants teaches people to value those species while also helping them to become more self-sufficient.
Many North American natives, including the Mewuk and Yuki of California, were known to harvest the bulbs of wavy-leaved soaproot (Chlorogalum pomeridianum) for use as food, adhesive, fiber, and fish poison. Though it might be anticipated that harvesting the bulbs would kill the plants and eventually lead to the eradication of the population, it was much the opposite. Native people timed the collection of the bulbs to coincide with the maturation of the fruits, allowing them to deposit ripe seeds into the freshly tilled earth. Along with other harvesting techniques (e.g., sparing some individuals, removing the root crown from the bulb and placing it in the ground), native people insured an ample supply of wavy-leaved soaproot despite the lethal collection of the bulb.
Here in the Northeast, there are many species of plants that colonize recently disturbed soil. These plants are often referred to as weeds, but fulfill very important functions on the landscape. Common evening-primrose (Oenothera biennis) is one such species that has a large, edible taproot. If left alone, this plant will eventually become scarce or disappear altogether from a site as the area changes from bare soil to having continuous plant cover. Digging for the taproots disturbs the soil and allows the seeds to find suitable substrate for germination.
The simultaneous use and conservation of nature requires far more knowledge and skill than simply leaving nature alone. What might appear on the surface to be a wanton act of collection actually represents a gathering system that includes numerous safeguards to protect plants from overharvest. Abstract learning about nature (i.e., learning that doesn’t involve interaction and use) doesn’t accurately portray the value of different species. Without this knowledge, the need to preserve species can’t be fully appreciated.
HOW YOU CAN BECOME ACTIVE IN LOCAL ECOLOGY:
● Learn to conscientiously and sustainably gather wild foods. They are more nutritious than comparable cultivated types and do not cost money.
● Learn to wildcraft your own medicine. Natural remedies are free from many of the harmful side-effects and contraindications that come with prescription medicines and do not cost money.
● Learn to construct things you need from natural materials you can gather near your home. Cordage, baskets, water-tight containers, and cutting tools can be made from common plant species that grow in our area and do not cost money.
● Get outside and enjoy the open spaces near you by walking through them. Spend time travelling in places where there are no roads or paths (these areas don’t need to be large wilderness tracts). You will inadvertently collect and move fruits and seeds around without even knowing it—they will cling to your clothing just as they cling to fur and feathers.