First things first: the title of this blog is pronounced “homeland-scapes”. Not “home landscapes”.
Homelandscapes draws its name from a word I coined while in my second year of graduate school. I hope it helps inspire new ideas about how we practice conservation and how we view the land. I feel that the word “homelandscapes” unifies three distinct ideas that are critical to the future of conservation and sustainable living:
- The land on which we live is our home, as much as is the physical structure of the building in which we sleep and prepare meals. We cannot separate ourselves from the land. We therefore would be wise and prudent to consider how we fit into it.
- Thinking about how our individual actions fit into the global scene can be overwhelming. Thinking on the landscape scale—which I generally think of as meaning an area that extends from where we stand to the horizon—helps to shrink our focus to something more manageable. Thinking about how our actions affect our nearby, physical landscape gives us a meaningful way to consider the context of our lifestyles and behaviors.
- Our own landscapes are the places that we know most intimately and, I hope, love the most dearly. These near-home places are the ones on which we, as individuals, may exert meaningful influence in our actions.
Then, as now, I was contemplating how our society needs to rethink its relationship to the natural world. We are a part of nature; we rely on it, we need it, it is our home. Why, then, do so many people think of nature as something apart from us? We persist in thinking of nature as something that happens “out there”—in places like national parks—rather than in the places where we live. This artificial separation of the natural world from human society only serves to reinforce our passivity with respect to environmental degradation.
The reality is that intensively-developed urban areas and undeveloped wilderness just represent two ends of a spectrum of land use. In between are suburbs, agricultural lands, and working forests. Mapping these land uses reveals a patchwork, with some places heavily altered while others remain less modified. More and more of the patchwork, however, is shifting to the heavily-developed end of the spectrum.
By thinking about how our lives fit into our homelandscapes, and by considering the needs of the other living things that share that space, we can shape a more sustainable society.
For example, let’s say you have just bought a ranch house in the suburbs, near the edge of a network of parks that form a greenbelt around the city. You are not just the owner of your house and yard: you are responsible for a piece of your homelandscape. Sure, it’s a small piece, but through it, you can contribute to a greener world. The previous owner had an immaculate lawn, with nary a weed to be seen; he must have watered it regularly and treated it heavily with fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides. You choose to replace the lawn with a mix of native plants, including some berry-producing shrubs. The flowers attract bees and butterflies; the berries draw in wildlife, including some pretty songbirds you’ve never seen before.
Or let’s say you’re a city dweller. Taking responsibility for your homelandscape may mean volunteering to clean up litter from the park two blocks away in order to create a more pleasant outdoor space for yourself and all your neighbors. You start doing this on a regular, recurring basis, every other Saturday. You start noticing things like the way the squirrels change color as winter approaches, looking a little less brown and a little more gray. You notice that, in the spring, a hawk is around an awful lot, swooping down on the little sparrows over by the trash cans. And then you realize that there are two hawks, and that they have a nest. You point out the birds to the neighborhood kids, watching as the hawks start carrying small rodents back for their nestlings. You delight in seeing the young stretch their wings and take their first flight; you laugh at the way the inexperienced fliers awkwardly crash through the branches. You’re nostalgic and a little proud when they grow up and go on their way.
Homelandscapes. Start thinking about how you fit into yours, and what you can do to make it better.