Nature Notes Fall 2013

Greg Armstrong Nature Notes Leave a Comment

Big bluestem

Right after Labor Day almost every year, the weather seems to change, and it appears sudden. Autumn with its particular feel has arrived. It is cooler, the angle of the sun is different, the days are shorter, the typical asters and goldenrods are in flower and the leaves on deciduous trees and shrubs are turning.

We had a wonderful growing season this past spring, with an extraordinary, record-setting amount of rain. Plants that suffered so much in the drought of the previous summer appeared this year to almost jump out of the ground with exuberance. In this early autumn season the big bluestem grass and big tooth sunflower are now towering over your head if you stroll through the prairies. The resilience of these prairie plants is amazing—they seem to thrive in spite of the extremes of weather we have been experiencing. The first flowering plants evolved about 35 million years ago, and the big bluestem grass and big tooth sunflower have endured both wet and dry seasons over some portion of that vast time period. I guess the ancestral brothers and sisters of these plants that couldn’t take the changes, died off. The survivors lived to contribute their genes to shape the plants of today. They are pretty tough.

Evolutionary theoreticians might be able to predict a trajectory for the tall grass prairies that experience climate change. I am stumped, however. If there is a drought over a long period of time, one might think we would end up with a short grass prairie like that at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. If we have exceptionally wet conditions on the other hand, it might be reasonable to expect that forests would take over. But when you have both extremes one season to the next, I surely don’t know what will happen. Maybe we will experience more genetic resilience, and something altogether novel will result.

The sisters at Holy Wisdom Monastery are, as I like to say, thinking celestially and acting locally. I attend morning prayer with them several times each week and often marvel at their expressed compassion for the natural world, God’s beautiful creation. In addition their actions represent a minority among religious institutions that care about the environment. The sisters aren’t just talking about it, they’re actively caring for it, right here in the Town of Westport. A graduate student at Harvard Divinity School recently came to Holy Wisdom Monastery to gather information and cite the sisters’ work for her dissertation on creative eco-sustainability initiatives by faith communities around the country.

One could become discouraged at what is happening to the natural world around the globe. Indeed, it seems so futile to do the small things that an individual can do to be a positive influence. Recycle trash, turn off unused lights, or if you have some land like the sisters, restore a prairie or savanna. However, if we all make the increment of progress that we can manage, in our local place, the cumulative effect can make a huge difference. If enough of us care that much, it is much more likely that the power centers of government and business may also do something. With God’s assistance, our prayers and each of us acting locally, I have some hope that we will muddle through, and our grandchildren will also be able to enjoy the big bluestem grass and big tooth sunflower in their autumns. Take the sister’s example. Think celestially, act locally.

Happy autumn!



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