how gnomes teach ecology

Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash

Who lives near your home?

If I asked you to list every creature that lives in your yard, in the tree next to your house, in the sidewalk median near your apartment, or in the bushes at the edge of your lawn, could you tell me? 

You might be able to name a few birds, the cicadas, crickets, worms. You could probably come up with 10-20 species, maybe 40 if you're a birder or have a side-hobby of entomology.  

If I were to start listing my neighbors, it would go something like "Bird Species #1, Bird Species #2, cicadas, crickets, katydids, tree frogs...." and that'd be it.

Truthfully, I really don't know who lives around me. But I know that there are thousands of beings right outside my door. 

The insects that range in size from don't-want-it-near-my-face to too-tiny-to-see. The millions of soil bacteria. The miles-long networks of mycorrhizae. The many types of birds whose names I don't know. 

These creatures surround us all the time. The live with us and among us, and we're only minimally aware of them. 

And we don't necessarily need to be aware of them. They can take care of themselves. They live their lives, and I live mine. It's all fine -- except. 

Except we humans have a way of taking spaces and claiming them as our own, unless there is a clear and present reason that we should not do that.

We insist on mowing our lawns, but we're willing to compromise if we find a nest of baby bunnies. We weed whack the edges, but we'll save the stand of Joe Pye weed we discovered. We'll build a whole house if we want to build a whole house, but we might build around the mature trees on the property. 

We will compromise our drive to shape & manicure the land. But only for creatures that we can see. 

The thing is, the creatures that are big and bold enough for us to see are such a small portion of all the creatures that exist. And all those smaller creatures and plants we look past -- they're super important. 

The unseen beings make up the bulk of our ecosystem. They fill roles that we can't even fathom. They are crucial to our survival. They are our neighbors. 

A few years back, I transitioned from farming to gardening. I turned my farm into a teaching garden, and I started working in other people's gardens, too. This was still intense outdoor work, but gardening is way different from farming. 

In a garden, you are able to pay more attention to individual plants. You move through the space more slowly. You give closer care. There are nooks. There are crevices. There is mischief. 

I'm convinced that it's impossible to spend a significant amount of time in a garden without opening your awareness to gnomes. (And fairies. But let's focus on gnomes right now.)

First, you notice a magical nook where you could envision a gnome taking repose. Then, you espy the perfect vessel for a gnome's swig of nut ale. Before you know it, every space that you enter becomes a whole gnome community, busy and thriving just beyond the veil. 

Suddenly, your gnome awareness piqued, you see their marks everywhere. 

For me, this shift was subtle at first. Then it became the way I viewed all the spaces around me. 

This affected me in many ways (mostly it affected my friends, who are now subjected to my gnome-imaginings at every opportunity). 

Perhaps the strongest impact of my new gnome awareness was my magnified view of ecology. 

You see, I may not now know all the species of birds and earthworms and fungi that live in a space. But I do know that gnomes live there. And I don't know exactly what ecological conditions the birds and earthworms and fungi prefer -- but I know what gnomes need. 

Gnomes need untamed spaces. Unmanicured lawns. Un-perfect gardens. 

What makes crevices? Trees of varying ages -- not just the grown ones. Rocks left scattered. Bushes. Shrubs. Wildflowers. 

Gnomes need spaces untouched and un-managed by humans. They need places to be their wild, magical selves.

If you want gnomes to bring their magic into your space, you need to leave space for them to exist. 

Suddenly, I saw a manicured lawn as a space devoid of gnomes. Mulched gardens of impatiens appeared as gnome-hostile spaces. Large, empty fields were empty of gnome life, too. 

And if a space isn't hospitable to gnomes, it's not hospitable to the other unseen beings, either. 

Assessing spaces in terms of gnome-friendliness is a shortcut to assessing their ecological health and diversity. The crevices in which gnomes gather for Equinox banquets are the very same crevices required by Frittilary butterflies and Hummingbird Moth caterpillars. 

As gnome-awareness sinks into your consciousness, it becomes an ecological awareness that is born of fervor rather than fact. And fervor is what drives action. 

Fervor is what we need to protect the land, to steward spaces in a sustainable way so that we can survive as humans.

Fervor will save us. Gnome awareness will save us. 

I encourage you to look around your home-spaces with gnome awareness. Is your yard gnome-friendly? Is your garden? What can you do to invite the gnomes, with all their mischief and magic, into your world?