Tags: rambunctious garden

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Rambunctious Garden


Emma Marris

I’ve read this book twice.

The first time, I thought it was going to affect my approach to restoration as deeply as Crow Planet had (which was my first encounter with a critique of the false dichotomy of the urban/nature divide). I even said to myself (rather embarrassing to admit) “How shall we tend the rambunctious garden of this crow planet?” Everything felt like a revelation, this was a manifesto that was going to crumble the walls of the prison and free all within.

The second time, I did get a deeper understanding of the ideas of the book, and why the author presented them.

One important challenge is the idea of the “baseline.” How far back do we reach? The problem of “the baseline” is a difficult one. In North America, it appears easy: first European contact. But “first contact” might be after smallpox had wiped out most of the population; Europeans making first contact were already finding degraded cultures with most of their practices reduced or even lost. First contact might have included some botanic experts, but as often as not, it was fur trappers. If the first attempts at scientifically describing the landscape occurred after fur trapping wiped out the beavers, the hydrology has already been severely disrupted. Between smallpox and beaver extirpation, we have two layers of disruption before our supposed baseline.

Let’s not forget the racist implications of thinking that pre-European contact the Americas existed in a state of nature. Increasing evidence indicates that, in fact, in North America lands were settled soon after glacier retreat and were managed right from the start. One of the habitats that people are putting a lot of effort into restoring, Garry Oak savannah, is completely anthropogenic. The idea that the Americas, before Europeans, were “pristine” and unmanaged excludes the roles that Native Americans and First Nations peoples played in managing the environment.

The baseline for park restoration efforts is 1850. This is after smallpox and beaver extirpation, true; but it’s between botanizing and settlement. It’s a useful fiction because it gives us a target, but it’s not an absolute truth.

Once we realize that the “baseline” is a useful fiction, then we need to think about novel or hybrid ecosystems – that is, ecosystems based on combinations of native and introduced species, or completely new assemblages. What if a tree is a weed in one ecosystem but endangered in its native range? What about plants that have no native range as such? Is there value to the increasing expense of fighting back the increasing list of invasive species?

These are only some of the questions that Marris raises in “Rambunctious Garden.” Each chapter looks at a different aspect of restoration – restoring to a baseline; natives vs. introduced; pristine vs. modified – looking at what people are doing, what the challenges are, how problems might be approached differently.

For my own part, all I can say is “the journey continues.” I’m more interested in getting ivy, blackberry, and other monocultural weeds out than I am in meeting a “baseline” community or replicating an historical example.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.

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Time to Embrace Exotic Species?

Our Changing Urban Nature: Time to Embrace Exotic Species? (Or at Least Some of Them)

Nice article on how the nature of cities is changing the way we look at what are exotic or invasive species, and how much effort we should put into removing them. Ivy establishes a monoculture and prevents forest succession, so we’ll always fight that. But even knotweed might have its virtues (shocking, I know).

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.

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First thoughts on “Rambunctious Garden”

Rambunctious Garden by Emma Marris, 2012

This book looks at the historical antecedents of the idea of wilderness, and how that has affected conservation today.

There really is nowhere in the world that is “pristine” wilderness, because global warming has reached into every corner. But even before the effects of global warming were known, the idea of pristine wilderness frequently eliminated the Native Americans who had lived their before — as the Miwok Indians were evicted from Yellowstone when it was made a national park.

Some groups, like the Washington Native Plant Society among many others, set a baseline of European colonization, picking different years for different parts of the continent — 1850 for Washington. But the idea of a baseline is itself based on an old, outdated concept on the processes of ecology; that is, that an ecological zone proceeded along a steady path to a climax state, as in the old idea of climax forest. That’s been pretty thoroughly disproven, but a lot of practices started when that idea held sway are still being carried out. For instance, the idea of an 1850 baseline ignores the fur trappers, who were decades earlier, and who wiped out the beaver, which drastically affected the waterways of the region. Not to mention smallpox, which arrived even earlier.

But the invalidity of the idea of a baseline or of pristine wilderness does not mean we should pave over everything. Rather, it gives us the freedom to bring nature closer to us, to see that the separation of nature and the built environment is itself a false distinction, and one we should get rid of as soon as possible. This is the same point that Lyanda Lynn Haupt makes in Crow Planet: nature is everywhere, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can change our lifestyles and habits and awareness.

As I type this, I’m less than halfway through the book, so there is probably a lot more to learn about. But I was thinking that “Rambunctious Garden” is complementary to “Crow Planet” and that the former is likely to be as influential on my work as the latter. That may be overburdening Rambunctious Garden with false expectations, but I hope not.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.