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My Turn: A backyard revolution

It’s hard to get away from the hard facts of climate change these days. I recently picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, “Flight Behavior,” without knowing anything about it and was thrown into my worst nightmare: a vivid scenario of environmental chaos and death told through a story of butterfly dislocation.

Soon after, I attended the master gardener symposium only to find climate front and center. You may have seen Pat Leuchtman’s column about keynote speaker, Douglas Tallamy. It’s hard to find any place where I’m not getting slammed by facts that I would dearly love to ignore but, increasingly, cannot. Things are bad in our ecosystem and getting worse.

Much as I would love to stick my head in the sand and hope for the best, it is no longer an option. I am plodding through Wysham’s “Six Stages of Climate Grief” reaching for acceptance and beyond to constructive action. Meanwhile, the urgency grows to confront the problem head-on in every place, every institution, every political campaign, every aspect of home and community. The only hope is to respond collectively with every ounce of spirit and every resource we have at our disposal.

My politics grew out of a religious awakening as a teenager and three years spent as a lay missionary in Guatemala during a bloody civil war. I went on to work in international development, human rights and environmental issues motivated by the call to be a good steward of the earth as God’s creation. I now teach yoga. In 2005, I had the chance to take master gardener training. During that wonderful crash course in botany, entomology and the biology of plants, I came across a new definition of photosynthesis: to put together with light. Earth science, faith and yoga merged for me in that simple concept!

En-light-ened public policy is desperately needed and you can’t get much more local in politics than your backyard. What I love about Tallamy’s message is its appeal to everyone who owns a home lot, large or small, to take part in reversing the decline in biodiversity that is perilously close to bringing down life as we know it. This radical view of stewardship has the potential to create a national park of 20 million acres, a park larger than all the national parks put together, comprised of our lawns. Reclaiming lawns across the country as gardens for all living creatures is as old as the book of Genesis: “Let the earth produce all kinds of plants, those that bear grain and those that bear fruit — and it was done.” As each American home dweller starts noticing the land again and finds a God-given connection with bugs, birds and all that breathes, we will unleash a healing momentum that may just save ourselves in the process.

Second Congregational Church of Greenfield is observing 50 days of “Greening Up, Powering Down and Shouting Out” on the environment. Another place I might have considered a refuge from politics presents me with no choice but to get back on the front lines as pastors stand with movie stars and politicians risking arrest in order to stop a risky natural gas pipeline. The UCC Mission 4/1 Earth proclaims a return to God and earth-centered sharing, a state of consciousness in which all plants and bugs and predatory creatures are necessary and equal.

The imagery of green pastures, branches and vines used in many holy traditions reminds us that gardening is close to the heart of God. Restoring a balanced relationship to the earth requires a new definition of beauty. Unsightly tent caterpillar cocoons in the cherry tree means chickadee parents will be able to feed their young. Leaf piles and rough edges around the house mean animal and insect habitat rather than irresponsible neighbors. Neatness is not next to godliness where nature is concerned.

“To feed the birds, first feed the bugs!” Every piece of land needs to become a fertile piece of the food web sustaining all species. Each species that is lost is irreplaceable in the food chain that is holding our common life together. And don’t worry about sharing the garden with insects. Planting native plants means a diversity of native insects that support healthy communities of natural enemies.

I became a master gardener in part to get away from politics. But then I was reminded that you can’t really get more local than gardening, or more environmentally active than changing the way you manage your own land. May Garden Clubs become hotbeds of activism where pretty flower beds work side by side with stinky plants, thorny bushes and cardboard mulch as tools of eco-revolution. So, trash your perfect lawn for the Lord! Om.

Jenny Tufts is a Kripalu yoga instructor. She also serves as a member of the Northfield Open Space Committee, member of the Western Mass Master Gardener Association, president of the Greater Northfield Watershed Association, and chair of the Northfield Town Democratic Committee.

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