Home and family

There’s a chickadee that has visited my feeder for three winters now. All chickadees look the same except for this one: it’s leucistic – part of its black head is white. So it stands out.

When I don’t see it, I miss it. When I see it again, I smile. This chickadee is part of my family. It’s part of my home.

Homes – or the lack of them – are the talk of the County these days. We don’t have enough and it’s putting the brakes on everything else that happens here.

So we need to build more, but often we run up against the other big thing people are concerned about: the environment.

There are few who disagree with the need to protect nature. The trouble is, the desire to save our wetlands and the turtles that live on them often runs head first into the need to dig up the land to build something. So, more often than not, we throw our hands into the air: “Yes, it’s terrible, but we need homes. Waddya gonna do?”

It doesn’t have to be like that. We can help nature flourish and build homes. We can make our world more beautiful and we can save money. We just have to look at things a little differently.

I bought a paperback from Master’s Book Store the other week by Aldo Leopold. In this 70-year-old book Leopold proposes a new ‘land ethic’. Like the golden rule, the land ethic extends our care to the land and everything that lives on it.

In other words, the birds and the trees become family; the land is our home. We nurture family beyond the Thanksgiving table, our home beyond our property lines.

Many of us have become alienated from our bigger family and home. We don’t touch it, we don’t know it. So that makes it easy to destroy and extract. The result is the interlinked problems of climate change, biodiversity loss and soil erosion.

What if we did a mind flip when it came to development? What if we used the need to build houses as a way to also enhance the wellbeing of our larger family? What if every spade in the ground helped the rest of the world flourish? Because that’s what you do with home and family.

There’s a movement afoot called the ‘regenerative economy’. In short, it’s about helping everything develop according to its inclination. Humans would lead healthy, happy lives… and so would frogs and milkweeds.

This means farming that puts nutrients back into the soil, beautiful gardens that serve butterflies as well as humans. It means condo developments that maintain and enhance the nature that surrounds them.

Because nature has everything figured out, preserving and replenishing wetlands, for example, doesn’t just help the turtles. It helps us as well. Wetlands can collect water run-off, keeping the aquifer topped up, so we can draw clean water from our taps. It makes economic sense too: the city of Philadelphia figured its parklands were saving $6m in water treatment costs; an analysis of house prices in a Philly suburb showed a distinct uptick in value the closer a home was to greenspace.

The win goes beyond dollars and cents. When we know we’re part of one big family sharing one big home, not only do we act differently but we feel better too. Instead of fighting the world to get what we need, we work with it to get what we all need.

Then one day, as we step outside our new home, we notice the blue iris flowering in the bioswale that’s diverting and cleaning the water by our driveway.

This will make us smile. It could also be what saves us.