Nature Observation Through the SeasonsDec 29, 2020 11:49AM ● By Tim Seifarth & Natasha Herr
We often use the word home to describe the place where we live. Sometimes home refers to a shelter; a house or a dwelling where we raise our families, where we eat and dream and rest our heads at night. Sometimes we use it to refer to the place that we originally come from, the place where we grew up, the area our ancestors came from, the region of the world most familiar to us.
Home can also be a feeling. The idea of home encompasses the nature of belonging to a place and to a community; to a group of family or of friends. We even have a word to describe the loss and longing we feel when separated from home. We call it homesickness and know that we mean the feeling of loneliness, the deep missing of the place we identify with the most.
Home can change over time, in meaning and in location. When we move, so too does our sense of home. In our resiliency, we are able to start again, to create new relationships and community; we embed ourselves into unfamiliar networks of roots already established. Like a new seed sprouting in an ancient forest, we become a part of the ecosystem. The feeling of home strengthens in places filled by those we love.
When our lives are touched by loss, that absence is palpable and homesickness creeps in; just as it does when we’re missing a place where we once lived. Home is a kind of alchemy—both a place and a state of being. It refers to a physical location and a manifestation of the lives we live, infused with the generations that birthed us and the places that shaped them.
To really understand the concept of home, we must reach beyond the human connections of a given place. Let’s take this area where we live, the Mid-Atlantic Piedmont region of the Eastern United States.
This is an area with a wealth of fresh water, forests and ecosystems. Pennsylvania alone boasts 480 wild birds and mammals, 3,000 plant species (two-thirds are considered native to PA), 200 species of trees (134 are native) and 988 insect species. It’s easy to take that rich biodiversity for granted, but it is extraordinary.
This area is also a part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. According to the Chesapeake Bay Program (Chesapeakebay.net), “The Chesapeake Bay watershed spans more than 64,000 square miles, encompassing parts of six states—Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia—and the entire District of Columbia. [...] The land-to-water ratio of the Chesapeake Bay is 14:1—the largest of any coastal water body in the world.”
This impressive network of tributaries and waterways adds an additional 3,700 species to the biological diversity of this region. To restrict the idea of home to just our human communities overlooks the fact that our world is teeming with life. Most of us have little awareness of these unimaginably complex networks, but they are what makes our region livable, beautiful, breathable and fertile.
People lived here before us, called this place home and their generations remain present today. A vast number of Indigenous communities lived in Pennsylvania and the surrounding areas, including the Delaware (Lenni Lenape) culture, the Eerie, Honniasont, Iroquois, Saluda, Saponi, Shawnee, Susquehannock, Tuscarora, Tutelo and Wenrohron communities. Indigenous land management practices traditionally view the land and its communities as one cohesive, living system.
As we struggle to understand the impacts modern civilization is having on the planet—and seek ways to balance disrupted ecologies—it is imperative that we acknowledge the deep wisdom held by Indigenous communities around the globe and embrace their leadership in understanding the way Earth’s systems work and the best ways to care for them.
We can begin understanding this place where we live and the natural systems that make up the network we call home by learning to observe and interact. We can research the areas of significance to us. We can learn about the Indigenous communities that call and have called our landscapes home, and we can research and listen to them for leadership on caring for and managing the land now.
We can seek out knowledge about the species of insects, animals, birds, trees and plants that live in our area, and find out how to support them. We can remove invasive plants and trees, and plant native species that support more pollinators and wildlife. We need to listen, to watch and to learn. We can expand our ideas of home to include the wild communities that we share our world with. Our daily lives and the spaces we frequent are full of rich and varied life; we just need to learn to see it.
Each month in these articles we’ll include a few nature awareness and observation prompts to help us tune into the season and the environment around us. These could include thoughts and ideas to look up and research, things to notice in the natural world according to the seasons, tips and methods for encouraging biodiversity and healthy local ecosystems, and environmental factors, species and locales to observe.
Nature Awareness Prompts
Who are/were the Indigenous cultures that lived in this area, and what were some of the methods they use/used in caring for the environment and ecosystem?
Find the name of one plant, tree and bird you don’t already know the name of and locate/observe that species in its natural habitat.
Identify the winter silhouette
of one native plant.
Learn to identify one native tree species using only the appearance of the bark.
Send us a message about what you see, hear, experience and find out. You can follow us on Facebook as Earthbound Artisan, find us on Instagram @earthboundartisanllc, or email us at [email protected] or T[email protected]. We can’t wait to hear from everyone.
This monthly column is an invitation from us at Earthbound Artisan. Tim Seifarth, who has 24 years of experience as a landscape professional, opened Earthbound Artisan nearly a decade ago. Based out of Ephrata, and located along the Ephrata Linear Park Rail Trail, Earthbound is an ecological land care company and native plant nursery specializing in organic land management, permaculture, native plant ecosystem design and installation, dry stack stone work and riparian buffer and rainwater management. Natasha Herr has more than 15 years of experience as a naturalist, earth care professional, writer and community educator. She currently serves as Earthbound’s director of land management and operations manager. For more information, visit EarthboundArtisan.com and EarthboundNatives.com.