Legacy Sites – A Speculation

“And even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today.”

Martin Luther

PATRICIA REMY – The world might end, but not the planet Earth. It has another 5 billion years or so. The “world” is a human construct; it has not been doing the Earth a whole lot of good. As we watch our species and the civilization we have created push the Earth toward tipping points of massive bio-collapse, we could at least consider legacy sites for possible survivors. Regard it as damage control and a thank-you to the biosphere that has allowed us to evolve. Creatures unlike us, and more adaptable, should be given a chance after H. sapiens goes extinct.

Take the algae, mosses and protozoans that inhabit the many wetlands around town and in the county. (See The Swamping News) Think of the frolicking crustaceans like crayfish in the Jackson, Curtis, and Crawford Creeks or the meditative mussels in Little Lake. Smallmouth and largemouth bass and muskellunge populate Kawartha’s lakes and rivers, not to forget the cold water brook trout found only in Harper Creek. Swans have moved into the marsh in Lakefield and into the City of Peterborough itself! All along the Trent-Severn Waterway heron have their hunting grounds and geese raise their goslings. Who hasn’t lit up at the sight of the turtles basking on rocks in Sawer pond, where it narrows to flow under the bike trail and into the canal? Not to forget the toads, frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, and grasshoppers. Let’s give these guys a chance. It’s not their fault that Homo has messed up.

Legacy sites

Some of us are fortunate enough to have our own backyards as possible legacy sites. By that I mean any segment of the biosphere, large or small, which might be saved for use by a less destructive set of species.

A legacy site doesn’t have to be large. One backyard may contain several. The creatures on the bottom rung of the “ladder of life”, dwellers of the soil, are the most important, the nurturing matrix on which every living land-based creature thrives. Of course, the “ladder of life” reveals itself in the end, despite human hubris, to be a circle. We “higher” organisms return to bacteria and humus in the end.
These humble forms of life truly constitute “the ground of our being”. (BTW: For religious seekers, I know, this is the term used by the German-American theologian Paul Tillich to represent God. Except he used capitals. So let’s not confuse the two.)
Where these ancients survive, there is truly hope that new life will be nourished.

Every cubic meter of your legacy site counts, whether it’s a pile of brush cuttings, a pyramid of rotting logs, or a pile of stones allowed to sit as a natural rock garden. The protection of an untrimmed hedge offers rabbits a home. Lines of trees and bushes can become a wildlife corridor. High grass and weeds protect voles and mice. Pollinator garden plots, of which there are many examples around the city, provide habitat for insects. You can plant your own plot; the more the better. There are kits for bee houses which you can hang on the side of the garage (just don’t use toxic glue.) Parks Ontario provides instructions for building your own DIY bat box.

Martha Stewart would not approve of my unkempt backyard. So what?

At my place a pair of blue jays come through regularly, a cardinal couple too. Every spring two returning robins build their nest somewhere under the eaves. However, I observe that the chickadees and sparrows are much less numerous than they used to be. I haven’t seen as many grackles for the past couple of seasons either. Why might this be? Many birds eat insects or seeds. Both of these concentrate in their tissue the pesticides and toxins sprayed on our trees, gardens, transported by contaminated groundwater, and blown there by the wind. No wonder birds, who eat such things, are vulnerable. Rachel Carson warned of this 60 years ago in Silent Spring.

The same is true for lawns. Lawns are invasive spaces. Left to itself, the soil would choose other dwellers to take the place of pesticide-pampered and fossil fuel-manicured grass.

Resident squirrels love my black walnut trees and maples. Every time I look at them, I bless the previous owners who let them grow. Unfortunately, my current neighbours and I have had to take down several tall Colorado spruces. They contracted a fungus disease which, according to my arborist, is spreading. Their remains were transported away to be burned.

So-called “higher” animals and plants (let’s just call them “complex” or maybe “recent” in geological history) will suffer the most under climate change. The “simpler” ones, the ancients, who have already survived several extinction events, will hang on. I’ve fallen in love with the chipper “moss piglets” and “water bears” of garden puddles and ponds: the hardy tardigrades. They’ve been around on land for ages and in the sea for 550 million years! Recently, some exemplars even survived a rocket ride into outer space.

Amazingly, there are roundworms (nematodes), also dwellers of the soil, which have survived and now thrive in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. They have suffered little to no genetic damage despite the massive amount of radiation given off in the meltdown of the
Chernobyl nuclear site,

Those organisms with time-tested and ancient body plans have seen it all. Multiple and numerous such forms of life will find refuge wherever there is water and soil, that miraculous mixture of minerals, humus, bacteria, protozoans, algae, and fungi. They are the matrix from which new life will emerge. There it is, ready and waiting in your backyard or community garden for your very own legacy site. While we can, let’s protect and preserve what we can. Every handful of soil holds a promise.

Legacy Sites – A Speculation © 2024 by Patricia Remy in the Greenzine is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

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