By the time you see this article, the backyard meadow at church is likely to have received its maintenance-mowing and may look like a blank space or a poor excuse for lawn. But, I hope you have seen, can imagine, or will see the wonderful plants that are still alive and well beneath the ground.
There are Common Milkweeds that support traveling Monarchs, Baptisia that bloom with blue flowers above silver-leaved mounds, tall slender-stalked Grayhead Coneflowers, and bunches of fragrant Slender Mountain Mint. There are prairie grasses: Big Blue Stem with its turkey-track seed heads, dense clumps of Switch Grass that form airy panicles of seed, Indian Grass with golden plumes, bright orange-flowered Butterfly Weed, colonies of Ashy Sunflowers, Compass plants that point North and South, Obedient Plant, Rattlesnake Master, Goldenrod, Gum Plant, Blue Sage, Willow-leaved Sunflowers, and multiple species of Asters and Eupatoriums.
This meadow is the result of a human-driven transformation, part accidental and part intentional. When our UU forbears arrived and put up the building in 1969, the current meadow space was home to a woodland community. Then, in 1998 as we put on an addition, a big “bulldozer-oops” occurred, clearing a chunk of woods from the flat area and on down the hillside. We responded with attempts to help the land heal by nurturing a native, shrubby, woods-edge/hedgerow-type community on the hillside, with a native prairie plant community on the flat area that we now call our “meadow”.
Scientists use the words “disturbance” and “succession” in describing the transformation of ecosystems over time. In this particular instance, and so many others, we humans were careless disturbers. But disturbance in ecosystems is not always a bad thing. It can also be regenerative. Now, we are trying to work with natural succession and to steward the land toward health and abundance. We are attempting to partner with diverse life forms, all of whom we will never completely know, but whose basic roles and presence we can at least try to appreciate and support. We aspire to minimize our disturbance and to practice respectful nurturance of a healthy ecological community. Sometimes that requires active labor on our part, but it also asks of us an unhurried presence and an open mind toward recognizing and understanding all that this other-than-human community brings to us. There have certainly been many blunders along the way, but it is our hope that as we observe and learn from direct experience, and listen to naturalists and scientists, we are becoming more attuned to this plant community and are growing in solidarity with it.
It is the hope of our Grounds Team that those who spend time here will be touched by the presence of this rich multi-species community, and that they will return over and over to be connected with its rich transformative presence.
– Carol Arnold, Grounds Team member