Herb Quarterly is a pleasant little publication for the plant-based. It has a sort of blotting paper tactility to it, good weight, and I’m sure all the right environmental bits and pieces. I’m also fairly sure it’s a quarterly, though having received only one copy I’m taking them at their word: for all I know, Herb Quarterly is the name of the founder, and Mr. Quarterly has launched only an annual magazine. I’ll find out soon enough. The copy I have is the Fall issue (well, there’s a clue, unless they’re trying to throw us off: Mr. Quarterly has a devilish humor; the next issue, Spring 2020, is due in 2023). Still, the pages feel hand-milled. The inks, I’m betting, rather than the usual soy, are extracts from the garden. The dull orange title must be carrot. And below that, in deep peony, the subhead is “Create a Certified Wildlife Habitat in Your Backyard”. Below that…”PLUS, Make Your Own Herb Kombucha” (most of Mr. Quarterly’s friends are also called Herb, and Mr. Kombucha is experimenting with crowd-sourced cloning, hoping to replicate himself enough that he becomes his own blockchain currency and cashes in big time).
But back to that wildlife habitat thing. It was the reason I bought the magazine. I have wildlife, I thought; you mean I can get a certificate as well? The article itself, “Get Wild! 5 Steps…” is based on the National Wildlife Federation’s program, part of which is an effort to meet the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge and help expand corridors of hospitable spaces for transient bees and butterflies, which, face it, are having a rough go by any measure of environmental catastrophe.
The five steps are these:
Wildlife Need Food.
They do. They’re big eaters, and not just in the summertime, when it’s much more convenient for us to get out and plant a native shrub or hang a finch feeder. They need food in the lean times, in the snow, and when there’s not a whole lot on the telly except Hallmark Christmas movies. The mule deer go through a pine tree a month out here, chewing it down to a nub, and then push one of the yearlings out in plain view, with an Oliver Twist expression of confusion and lack on his face and a tweed newsboy cap in his hoof, trying to elicit sympathy. Twigs, Cercocarpus seeds, what’s left of the Rhus trilobata — these are good. For other animals, the chokecherries, wild plums, nectar from the Agastache, prickly pear cactus pollen for the Bombus griseocollis, sandcherry fruit, the intractable apple by the drive, mountain ninebark for the bees in spring, and then its twigs in winter for Rocky Mountain goats (if you happen to live on Mount Massive). So much. I know what you’re saying: “Can’t they just look after themselves? I’m having a hard time keeping myself in filberts as it is.” They could. If we weren’t paving paradise, laying lawn, and herbiciding or pesticiding to beat the band (you get two cides with that, says the gal at the fast food stand).
Wildlife Need Water.
A bird bath, a water garden. No need for the dancing jets of the Bellagio, but if you’re the impresario sort, knock yourself out. I’m thinking of putting in a container pool off the deer trail down to the shop, and I fully expect to see a wood rat doing the backstroke shortly after.
Wildlife Need Cover.
If you let the yard go because you can’t be bothered you’re way ahead of the game here. Go you! Disheveled hedges, rotten logs, thorn bushes, waist-high prairie grass. You can hide enough fauna in some of these thickets to feel like a resistance fighter in a WWII film (“Have I seen who? The rock wren?” *Looks anxiously at the garret* “Monsieur, I have been in the fields all day…”). Wear a beret. A look of Gallic disdain. Scarlet lipstick. Take it off when you go into town.
Wildlife Need Places to Raise Their Young.
Bonus here. That thicket you were cultivating from the hammock? Or the dead tree you’ve been meaning to take out? Birds make babies there. You don’t need to look. Throw in the odd burrow and caterpillar plant and you’re a regular neonatal unit. Wild Birds Unlimited sells terrific nesting boxes for bluebirds. Our bird box has a 1½” entry hole — too large you’d think for a house wren, but they’ve successfully raised young four of the last five years there; Violet-green Swallows took over in the season they didn’t. Strangely, it’s never hosted a bluebird.
Wildlife Need Sustainable Practices.
Nix the RoundUp. Start a worm composting bin. Mine began with an order of 1,000 red wigglers from Uncle Jim’s out there in Spring Grove, PA. They’ve been through successive generations now in the shop, but somehow through bitter cold and consistently applied inattention (see under Principle of Benign Neglect), they’re still going strong. Banana peels, apple skins, broccoli stems from winter soups, green-leaf lettuce, forgotten zucchini from the back of the fridge — it ends up there. Grass clippings, coffee grounds, garden trimmings find their way to the bin outside. High plains plants don’t need a lot of organic material: they’ve adapted to the fast-draining, rocky soil of the foothills. Poor stuff that yields small, wiry, potent shrubs and forbs. But every so often I spread a little compost around, among the detritus and decaying plant life, and let it work itself down. Let blue grama be blue grama. Decay is your friend, and earthworms, most coccinellid species (lady beetles), and basically anything you wouldn’t put in your mouth — it’s out there so you don’t have to be.
I downloaded the National Wildlife Federation checklist and began the application for their Certified Wildlife Habitat. It’s on the honor system: they accept that you’ve met the requirements (frankly, folks who haven’t probably aren’t interested to begin with, unless they’re scamming the quiz to impress a ladybug friend). And then, for a modest fee, you get congratulatory emails, a toasty feeling of community good, the respect of people like Jane Goodall and Matt Damon. Bells go off. Bears and bobcats get up on their hind legs and applaud. You’ve got this ecological collapse thing licked. Now put on your beret and take that expansive self-worth into the rest of the fight. You’ve only blown up the town’s train tracks. The railroad is still running.