Three seemingly unrelated tales of environmental misunderstanding…
When I was playing disc golf at Furman Sunday afternoon I noticed something unusual. There were weeds everywhere and the place looked badly overgrown. This was most noticeable around several of the park benches and picnic tables around the lake.
Furman usually keeps immaculate grounds. Not a blade of grass is left too long, nor leaf left to clutter the green grass. With students returning and so many families on campus, I couldn’t understand why things were left like this. I figured cut-backs on maintenance were much greater than I had thought.
When I got home and mentioned this to Laura, she set me straight. This is part of Furman’s sustainability program, and the intent is to let portions of the lake shoreline return to a more “natural state.” Of course, one of my fellow alumni and Facebook friends pointed out that this is a man-made lake, so how could it be natural. My reply was that it probably focuses on saving fuel by not cutting down the weeds.
I was only partially correct. What looks like weeds to me are actually carefully selected natural plants, following an extensive landscaping plan. The plan is to create a wildflower meadow along the banks. While the flowers aren’t in bloom, they do look like weeds.
We’re facing the same problem and misunderstanding in our neighborhood. Readers might remember that several houses in our neighborhood were removed from the floodplain, and our street was turned into a cul-du-sac. The floodplain area is now growing wildly, much like the banks at Furman lake. Some of our neighbors don’t like this, and want the area to be a park-like manicured lawn.
Fortunately, some realize that this isn’t practical, and that the area was never intended to be like that. My friend Tim Taylor has been instrumental in raising this issue. The neighborhood is now consulting with landscaper Rick Huffman from Earth Designs to develop a plan similar to the one around the Furman lake. Rick is an expert on native plantings, and helped us with our S.C.A.L.E. outdoor classroom in Spartanburg Five.
Even with Rick’s expert help, I’m afraid some of our neighbors won’t be happy. Like me with my initial reaction to the Furman lake, they are only going to see weeds. Some folks have trouble seeing the beauty of a natural area.
And finally, on a marginally related not, I got really aggravated with a stupid television show. I know, I know. I should let it bother me, but this one did. Laura likes the show House Hunters. I’m not much of a fan, but for some reason I found myself watching this particular episode. In the show, a real estate agent shows a couple three houses. They way the pros and cons of each, and by the end of the show, they make a selection.
On this particular episode, a retired couple from Florida wanted to move to Asheville, NC. They previously operated an organic farm near Orlando, and wanted a home with “green” features. From the outset it was clear that neither they nor the show producers really knew what “green” meant. They were using “green” and “organic” interchangeably, which they are not.
To this couple, going green meant buying a house without chemical toxins. If a house had composite cabinetry or carpet that might out-gas, they were ready to rip it out and replace it with “natural” or sustainable products. The problem was that they were increasing their environmental footprint 1. by buying a house far larger than they needed and 2. by ripping out perfectly serviceable components just so that they could replace them with something “natural.” All of that stuff they pulled out of the house they eventually bought has to go into a landfill somewhere.
Part of the problem was that they were confusing their own “green” desires with sustainability as a whole. In this case, the two were actually at odds. While they were able to rid their own home of what they considered to be toxins, they used up even more resources, then had the problem of disposal of the stuff they removed. That was hardly a good environmental decision.