Morning Medley: the Commons

“My home is my castle” makes me think of an impregnable, guarded estate, high above the plebs. That might work for some city or suburban neighborhoods but not for mine in Saint Paul. Here with lots leaving about ten feet from the side of a house to the property line, we have a lot in common with our neighbors on either side. Not to mention the common boulevard which stretches down the block and around the corner.

The English who settled New England brought another form of commons to the “new world.” A town phenomenon, not a plantation one, so not much visible in Virginia and points south. But I enjoy considering the New England commons as I walk about ten blocks west and back, crossing many property lines, noticing many boulevard trees, and enjoying a small “pocket park” with huge oaks. The New England settlers used a “commons” to pasture livestock, and possibly to cut hay. It was often land in the middle of a group of houses, thus allowing all the users to keep an eye on it.

Recently the Minneapolis city council has passed an ordinance allowing for feral cat “commons,” as long as the humans in charge neuter and vaccinate and “chip” the feral felines. One council person opined that she had a bird guide and had learned to identify the English sparrow. Bird-lover that I am, I keep all my cats indoors. That wasn’t always the case, I admit, but  the more I learn about the enormous damage feral cats do to bird populations, the more firmly I support trapping and euthanasia for feral cats.

Here’s a notion that occurred to me as I walked: Let’s take the Mpls city council members on a bird walking tour. Let’s remind them that the English sparrows are an invasive species (sort of like feral cats–neither has a predator sufficiently strong enough to keep their populations in check). Let’s introduce these well-meaning council members to ten native and common American birds, starting with the robin, blue jay, crow, chickadee, nuthatch, and yes the humming bird (more of these in a moment), on to the adorable goldfinch, the slightly less adorable house finch, the beautiful singer the cardinal, and completing the list with several native woodpeckers–hairy and downy. All these birds regularly visit  my back yard, which, as I say, is quite small, but full of eight varieties of trees. Plus, regular fresh water, suet, and seeds. You might say I have a bird commons.

Some falls (I think today feels like fall), I have seen maybe one humming bird passing through on its way south. This year, perhaps because I put out a sugar-water feeder with eye-catching red top and bottom, I’ve seen or heard maybe ten. This morning I stood in awe as one brilliant iridescent green mite hovered in the air, up and down, in and out, closer and farther from a huge silver maple. It was picking gnats from the air. Yes, it took a few sips from my feeder, but mostly it was tooling up on protein for its very long journey south.

I love it that people whose yards I know quite well from this daily walk are now watering their boulevard trees. We are again in a drought, and it’s a crucial time for trees. They need to have moisture in their roots before the freeze; otherwise their roots may die and they’ll meet the spring without leaves. Dead. Since our street has become a summer cathedral of arching green, I applaud tree care. Also because trees are our best defense against excessive heat and poor air quality, i.e. they’re on the front line against global warming, breathing in CO2 and exhaling oxygen.

More and more, I think we’re learning that our care of the land, air, water, soil, native birds and animals, bees and butterflies, fish and plants rebounds mightily on our own well-being. It also helps our neighbors–Lady Bird Johnson, years ago, was so right when she urged a clean-up and beautification of American highways. I love the sheets of stamps in her honor currently for sale at the P.O. Beautiful images of lovely landscapes and one of her as a handsome young woman. I think I might have to buy up a whole carton.

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