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OK — the picture is just some random rabbit…
Sometime last year…
There’s a small, rather nervous young bunny enjoying some of the more delectable weeds in my back yard. Looks like dandelion greens at the moment. The bunny has times when he or she is just nose down foraging and then quietly munching, when all looks safe. Every so often the bunny rises up and surveys the “horizon.”
I remember that on the way to have dinner with a couple of my husband’s ecological restoration colleagues we passed one of the largest rabbits I’ve seen, standing out like a furry beacon thumb as we round the corner into their neighborhood. I haven’t been there before and I ask Mark if he knows the address and he responds – “Oh, I’ll know the house when I see it. I’ll bet you’ll know it, too.” I’ve never been there before, but when he says that, I have a sinking feeling that I should have worn hiking boots, long pants, and brought bug repellant. Sure enough, as we pass a few trim homes with manicured lawns, my eye is snagged by a yard farther down the street –with a somewhat wild, unkempt look about it. Weedy, windblown, in definite shades of late summer. The house is partially obscured by some plant that is just too enthusiastically tall. Yes, I think, I bet this would be it. The house backs up to a forest preserve, I learn. Probably accounts for the behemoth bunny I saw nearby. Before dinner we head outside for a tour of the plants that they’ve collected, propagated, cultivated. This is not the sort of tour you take quickly – these plants ask for your attention, and have a subtlety that a domesticated plant – a pansy, tulip, or iris – beautiful as they are – lack.
Domesticated plants are made to form simple, direct, splashes of bright color. Personally, I’ve always been fond of those topiary plants shaped like large animals or whatever, and large banks of color where the green part of the plant is a quiet prop to the flamboyant blossom. But these wilder plants are complex, often delicate, with stems, leaves, seed pods, that all want their place in the sun, as well, so to speak. Our host takes us from plant to plant, sharing stories about their names, their particular place in the eco-system – the Joe-pye that is overly vigorous and needs to be held in check while the more delicate, more relaxed plants slowly establish their place. False Solomon’s seal, spotted false solomon’s seal, solomon’s seal, lousewort or wild betony, yellow violets, prairie gentian – a low plant with closed flowers like soft greenish white egg shapes that I watched a bee climb inside one and buzz back out; cardinal flower – upright and slender with fine, graceful flowers in a brilliant red, and more varieties of golden rod than I ever dreamed (or was that in a nightmare?) existed. Rather than an obvious and tamed beauty, these plants spoke of a complex eco-system that takes generations, but then can flourish grounded in strong interrelationships that sustain it from generation to generation once it has been established.
We went back out front. Their neighbors are new and my mind went immediately to how the realtor for that other house must have been worried about the weedy plot next door. I asked Stephen. Yes – early in putting the neighbor house on the market the realtor stopped by to talk with him. Yes – he was going to mow the grass and clean up a bit. “Um – what about these big weeds?” she asked. And then Stephen took her on a tour of their prairie nursery. “Well!” said the realtor, in a flash understanding both the heart of sales and the reality of growing things, “this isn’t an overgrown plot, it’s a unique, important, and special garden.” It does all depend upon whether you look closely enough to understand living processes – and a closer look can make all the difference in trusting and nurturing living systems toward thriving rather than becoming anxious, pruning, taming and thwarting them. It was a lesson to me in how your perspective – in prairies or congregations or any community – makes all the difference.
Outside a hard rain has sent the baby bunny off for some shelter and I think about how hard it would have been for the ancient bunnies of the prairie to stand on hind legs and see any distance at all over the tall flowers, grasses, and sedges of the prairie. Or else they were really, really, really, giant bunnies with clear vision.