Some thoughts now that spring is here
“Spring is sprung, the grass is griz, I wonder where the flowers is!” This was a favorite goofy saying of one of my college chums. As goofy as it was (and still is), it always seemed to capture the excitement and wonder (however strangely) with which we greet the arrival of springtime. The imminent arrival of warmer days, more daylight hours, the very blossoming of the Earth, all generate an anticipation that has motivated and energized humanity’s imagination and inventiveness from our earliest beginnings. The mythologies of Persephone, Eostre, Brigid, Cangdi and others – all were created by us to explain and celebrate this season of rebirth.
Along with the advent of these deities came rules and suggestions about how best to care for this earthly garden. The Chinese (at one time) had prohibitions against burning trees and grasses and damming rivers. The ancient Mesopotamians enacted the first laws protecting forests (2700 BCE). The gods’ retribution on people who mistreated the environment could be fierce: the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (2100 BCE) describes the ways in which the gods destroyed this ancient hero for devastating the great cedar forests that had covered the land.
From our earliest days, our laws have tried to spell out both positive ways to protect and promote our environment, as well as imposing various forms of sanctions for violations.
Leaving aside the “stick” approach to environmental practice, I’d like to note a few positive ways in which we can all help to keep our local environment in good shape:
First, I’d like to suggest a sort of “meta-level” idea, one that helps to guide all our actions that follow, and that is to practice some mindfulness. Be aware that all our actions have multiple impacts: we may just be focused on pressure washing the house, but will our choice of cleaning product negatively affect our ground water? Will the fertilizer we put on our lawn (focusing on getting it greener than the neighbor’s) cause harm to water supplies or wildlife (or our own children)? A little increase in awareness of larger pictures and impacts (however small the increase) will go a long way toward making our choices more environmentally friendly.
With our minds thus increasingly self-aware, I’ll run though a short list of positive and practical steps we can all take to help our local environment:
1. Instead of blowing grass clippings and other lawn litter into the street, be sure to clean up and sweep out the gutter. This debris finds its way into our Hammonton Lake and other waterways, threatening to overwhelm them with sediment. As this material builds up, we lose the possibilities for recreation, etc. afforded by this resource, and the material may lead to Harmful Algae Blooms, which can cause serious illness in humans.
2. Related to this is the need to get lawn services to toe the line. Ask yours to hoover up this debris and dispose of it in a responsible manner. More and more, savvy lawn services are following this practice, so don’t be afraid to demand better from your own.
3. If you’re planting trees, prepare a bed around each one and fill it with various native groundcovers instead of mounds of mulch. Not only will this help reduce the tree’s susceptibility to disease, but it will give beneficial native insects a “soft landing”, a place to mature fully after their adolescent stage causes them to descend or drop off the tree. It will also give toads – a great garden benefactor – a cool place to shelter in the summer heat. See www.PollinatorsNativePlants.com/softlandings.html.
4. Be mindful that our town has veins like our bodies. Those “veins” are the underground lines that carry stormwater away, but emptying into our lake and streams. We understand that we cannot put poison into one part of our veins and not expect it to show up elsewhere. The same holds true for our stormwater lines. If we leave pet waste on the ground (or, ugh, in the street itself!), if we dump used oil or paint or other substances into the storm drains, we should expect that we are poisoning Hammonton Lake and streams around town. That poisoning will affect not only the wildlife in those waterways, but the crops farmers grow, our children and communities downstream from us (where our cousins and other family members live). ACUA runs hazardous waste collection days frequently throughout the year; take advantage of this free service (check out www.acua.com/Services/Service-Directory/Hazardous-waste-Disposal).
5. If you’re going out on Hammonton Lake, whether by power boat (electric motor only, thank you) or, increasingly, by kayak and canoe, be respectful of others: don’t paddle over fishing lines, keep all trash in your vessel for disposal on land, and let any wildlife you encounter live their lives in peace.
6. Take advantage of opportunities to make your yard more eco-friendly: reduce the size of your lawn by planting more pollinator-friendly trees, shrubs, and flowers; install a rain garden to capture more stormwater to recharge our Kirkwood and Cohansey aquifers (folks who live along Hammonton Lake can take advantage of a program specifically designed for them:
7. As summer approaches, we’ll probably be watering our yards more. Be sure you have a rain sensor installed, to avoid duplicating Mother Nature’s work. If you don’t have one, get one and take advantage of the Town’s Water Conservation Tax Rebate Program
If you have any questions, contact the Environmental Commission, Green Committee or Lake Water Quality Committee at email@example.com. We’re always eager to help you find more great ways to help our local environment!
Dan Bachalis is a former town councilman and has served on a number of town committees. He currently serves as the chairman of the Hammonton Environmental Commission and the Lake Water Quality Commission.