The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. With Mary Margaret living in NYC, Jillian living in the midst of a woodsy suburban sprawl, and Maggie living on Florida’s Space Coast, we all experience nature in very different ways.
If you hear something and think, “Is that an owl, or a monkey?” that’s a barred owl.
If you hear something and think, “Is that an owl, or a really big dog?” that’s a great horned owl.
If you hear something and think, “Is that a dog, or a fire engine?” that’s a coyote, or several.
If you hear something that sounds like leaves blowing in the wind, but also sounds like it’s coming from inside the house… that’s a pine warbler in your sun room, again.
If you hear a faint skittering sound around your window, but you can’t see anything… that’s bees in the walls, run for your life!!
And if you hear your dogs in the backyard take off running at maximum speed, that might mean something very cute and very small is about to die. (We don’t talk about the summer of the baby bunny burrow.)
Growing up in these suburbs, I never saw them as a wonderland of wildlife. Maybe I should have – there was a nest of baby birds in the bush underneath my window every summer, after all. But I guess when you go to college and then move downtown and all in all spend about nine years encountering only cockroaches and – god forbid it – opossums, a house in the suburbs starts to feel like Little House in the Big Woods.
I’ve seen box turtles and baby box turtles and a displaced but happy gopher tortoise all comfortably hanging out in the muddy side yard after a rain. I’ve seen teeny tiny snakes the size of earthworms. I’ve barely glimpsed a blur of a hawk taking off from the deck rail. And I’ve seen a pine warbler in my sun room, twice. But mostly I hear things. And usually, drinking my tea by the window and listening to the sounds is just the right amount of nature for me.
But sometimes I go out into the yard with the dogs. I sit in the swing, breathe in the fresh air. I close my eyes and commune with all the wondrous living beings around me. I say to them in my mind, “O, you beautiful, wild things, things that crawl, and things that climb, and things that fly – you beautiful, wild things both big and small – may you stay outside my house, forever. Amen.”
Being outside, solitude, plants, water, wildlife, fresh air: these are beautiful parts of Creation that I find life-giving and necessary for my earthly walk. I try to spend some part of every day outdoors, absorbing natural light and inhaling clean, tree-gifted oxygen.
But wait, wait, wait, did we forget where I actually live?
There are many things I love about my life in New York, but scarcity of nature is one aspect that certainly never fit me like a glove. It fits more like a pair of too-short socks that are shuffling their way down into your shoe as you walk, until they are smashed into the toe and you finally throw up your hands in concession, stop, and yank them back up again…only so they can begin once more their toe-ward migration.
This analogy is apt, because I’ve learned that I can only handle city-life for so long before literally needing to seek out greener pastures. My family always hears me talk about needing a “city break,” which almost always entails a trip somewhere less populated and more naturally wild- a lake, ocean, mountain, even the suburbs where my Mom and Dad have what I teasingly call their “backyard nature preserve.” I’d cite this as a reason I haven’t spent more time visiting easily accessible cities like Boston, Philadelphia, or D.C., because when I have the chance to escape, I’m usually longing for grass, not more pavement.
I’ve developed strategies over the years for getting my green fix. I live directly on Prospect Park in Brooklyn, so I’m by the lake in minutes. I work near Central Park, so I frequently head there. I’ve got a list of go-to spots for quick infusions of nature—Botanical Gardens, the Cloisters, Greenwood Cemetery, the Brighton Beach Boardwalk. Eventually, though, I need something more—the man cranking up his boombox next to me, tourists who don’t understand/ care about park No-Smoking policies, realizing it’s been weeks since I’ve seen any animals besides rats, pigeons, and spoiled city dogs—I reach a tipping point.
I realize I’m speaking from a place of privilege, because I’m able to get out of town. New York does a tremendous job providing and maintaining public green space citywide; I don’t want to seem ungrateful. Please don’t misunderstand me- I love what cities are able to offer, and I love my life here. But the only reason I’m able to love it, I think, is that I know when I need a change.
Some people transplant to New York and readily graft themselves into the concrete jungle vine—great. Some people are like me. Another analogy, this one inspired by my grandmother. Astonishingly, my Mamoo grew potted pineapple plants in Northeast Georgia, certainly not a place native to them. She knew when to carry those plants (or rather have my Papoo carry them) inside and outside in different seasons to maintain equilibrium. I’m one of Mamoo’s pineapples. Sometimes, I need a new environment to keep thriving.
Every body needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.
My town calls itself the “Gateway to Nature and Space.” It’s true. I live in paradise. When I drive along US1, I can look out my window and see the beautiful Indian River Lagoon – home to manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, osprey, and more along side the NASA John F. Kennedy Space Center.
The natural abundance here is protected largely thanks to NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center. The space center is surrounded by two magnificent nature preserves: the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Cape Canaveral National Seashore. These lands are protected (I’m going to go out on a limb here) mostly because the government doesn’t want a lot of private development near NASA’s launch pads, and it is teeming with wildlife.
Warning: Alligators are commonplace.
Alligators like to hang out in shallow water where they wait just below the surface for an unsuspecting animal to come and drink, then they pull the animal underwater where it drowns, and then they eat it. Basically the entire state is within 10-20 feet of shallow water. Last week, a man found an alligator in his garage. This is not nearly far enough away from my house to be comforting.
I’m just glad we have animal control.
And mosquitoes. There are so many mosquitoes. I don’t know if you know this, but mosquitoes swarm like bees. And they buzz. But there’s a magical plant called citronella, which repels them. I’m thinking about replacing the grass in my yard with it.
But, as long as you’re wearing sunscreen, bug spray and have lots of water – this place is paradise.
When I go to the beach, I visit Playalinda Beach at the Canveral National Seashore. It’s one of the few places in Florida where you can visit a beach that isn’t peppered with high rise hotels and permanent beach chairs. Instead, you have to be careful about sea turtle nesting areas.
There’s places like the Enchanted Forest Nature Sanctuary, where you can explore the scrub, marsh and forest all in one square mile.
The trouble with living in paradise is that paradise is pretty delicate. People come from around the world to enjoy the pristine resorts at Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando (a short 45 minutes drive from my home), but those pristine golf courses and gorgeous yards come at a cost.
When we think about protecting the environment, we think about carbon emissions, renewable energy, and compostable straws (okay, maybe you don’t think about compostable straws, but you should). This fish kill was caused by run off from fertilizers. When people over-fertilize their lawns, golf courses, resorts, etc. the extra fertilizer runs off into Florida’s abundant water ways (remember, there’s water everywhere), and essentially fertilize the algae in the lagoon. The algae bloom like crazy and choke out all the oxygen from the water and the fish die.
Before I moved to Florida, I felt like nature was sturdy. Now I realize that we live in a delicate balance with our environment.
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
So, as someone who lives here, I ask that when you visit, please pick up your trash when you leave the beach, skip the straw, watch out for alligators and don’t complain if the grass isn’t all green.