I can remember my first job pretty well: cutting grass for my family, my grandmother and a few neighbors. It was a good work as a kid; earning me Dairy Queen cones and baseball cards, and putting me in touch with the outdoors as I would come to know it. I tended to have a pretty simple view of nature at that point. Weeds were to be pulled and the rest of the plants and animals were to be taken care of. As a suburban boy who had access to nearby parks and undeveloped areas, I also learned that nature included a vast area of places where there was no weed pulling and plants and animals just took care of themselves. This view stuck with me for quite awhile.
As I got interested in the gardens around my house: flowers, vegetables, berries, lilacs, an apple tree, shady spots and fencelines, and a rock garden of little woodland transplants, it occurred to me that helping things grow was actually pretty fun. I imagined myself as a landscaper or a forest ranger when I grew up. Much of this is connected to the projects my parents took on that required me to carry concrete blocks, push wheelbarrows of gravel and sand, or dig holes. And water. It seemed that as a kid I was either cutting the grass or I was watering it in a never-ending circle. I thought, if I keep watering it, it will grow and I’ll just need to cut it again. Was this just a plot to keep me busy? Oh, well, it did mean more coins for the corner store.
It wasn’t until much later, after significant time in the wilderness area of northern Minnesota and a couple summers working on the U of M’s research fields in Rosemount, that I began to understand something else about human impact on nature. We had indeed disrupted natural cycles, damaged ecosystems, and upset the balance that had naturally developed over millions of years. In just a couple hundred years, our invasive pioneer and settler culture had caused enough damage and change that it would require a sustained effort for years to come to help restore the earth to its balance.
Sometimes this means getting out of the way and letting the earth do what it knows how to do to heal itself. Sometimes, it means giving nature a bit of a boost to make up for our foolish, short-sighted damage. This spring I will return for more tree planting in the blowdown and burn areas along the Gunflint Trail, hoping to help the trees that create a mature conifer ecosystem to take root and stabilize the area before invading plants that take advantage of vulnerable natural settings move in and shift the ecosystem of the area. Had we not managed the forests for so long (to protect human interests), the blow-down and burns would have been beneficial to the northern forest and allowed it to regenerate on its own.
And so with the early signs of spring, the urges to get outside and move around some earth, plant some seeds, dig a few holes, or move a fence are reawakening in me again. I feel the need to grow something, or least help something grow.
At the shop this spring that will mean I will be working with the residents of Nicollet Square to plant, tend, and harvest vegetables from their backyard garden. It will include experimenting with growing vegetables along our 37th Street boulevard. And it will mean supporting farmers who are doing their best to care for the earth, restore damage done to it, and to offer us the fruits of this labor.
I look forward to sharing this path with you again this spring and summer, as we work together to grow something else from these efforts: a community of love and support in our Kingfield and Lyndale Neighborhoods.