by Glenn Steinberg
In Noah’s Garden, Sara Stein argues for creating suburban landscapes that allow for greater biodiversity and wildlife. It isn’t a new argument, but she’s very forceful, even eloquent. For example, she writes, “Spaciousness to us means not only roomy in area but visually open, expansive, uncluttered, uniform in texture, low in growth, without impediment to view. To others [i.e., wild animals], ‘spacious’ is closer to the biblical paradox, ‘My father’s house has many mansions.’ The diversity and complexity of vegetation creates a spacious landscape for animals by offering each kind the opportunity to earn its living in its unique way. Remove the pheasant’s cover or the butterfly’s flower and you have erased its space. The less variety of habitat the landscape offers, the less space there is until, when all is mowed, even an expanse the size of a golf course becomes just a hole in the world” (p. 46). What we see as open space is nothing but “a hole in the world” to wildlife.
Sometimes it’s as though Sara Stein is speaking for me, saying the words that I’ve often thought but haven’t gotten around to articulating yet. At one point, Stein writes about an Eastern Bluebird that takes up residence on her property, and she says, “The Bluebird had assessed our real estate. He had noted the lay of the land: the availability of water, the potential for insects in the meadow, the protection of surrounding trees. I’m proud that our property rates a bird’s approval. But I wish its richness to be valued by humans, too. I want us as a culture to depart from the old tradition of evaluating land according to what can be extracted from it as a commodity or abstracted from it as social asset and turn instead toward a new tradition of valuing land by the life it harbors” (p. 243). Noah’s Garden isn’t a how-to guide for creating a wildlife garden, but it’s a welcome exploration of the philosophy and rationale for creating such gardens — without a lot of jargon but with a lot of heart.