Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Finding Nature in a Concrete Jungle

The Urban Recycler

Finding Nature in a Concrete Jungle

I can’t say I was ever close to nature. Though both my parents came from places that are known for the natural beauty and landscape (my father is from Puerto Rico and my mother hails from Nicaragua) my 2 older brothers and I grew up in the comparatively lackluster boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. My mother, despite her upbringing had a deep-rooted dislike of the outdoors and always preferred city life. My father romantically spoke of his life on the family farm in Puerto Rico and would attempt to rekindle his attachment to agrarian living and his farming ancestors by planting tomatoes and peppers in our backyard every spring. Apparently, he didn’t inherent the green thumbs of his ancestors because he’s never had a good harvest to date. In fact I’ve never met a man with a more rotten thumb since he seems to kill every plant he touches.
Oddly enough it’s my mom who has a natural talent for growing plants, and though she’s apprehensive of the wilderness, she adores having plants all around the house. So much so, in fact, that our kitchen and den looks like a mini botanical garden with large, vibrate plants wildly dominating every widow-sill and corner. I grew up surrounded by mom’s little patches of self-made wilderness and it fostered in me a profound love and admiration for nature, though there was very little of it outside my house.
It was lucky for me that I inherited my mother’s green thumb and everything I planted tended to grow with an unbridled wildness, from my rose bushes to my herbs. They seemed to completely engulf whatever space they could and while some might consider my garden extremely unruly I consider it quite exquisite. My garden, like the abandoned cemetery near my house, whose vines and trees have completely overpowered the tombstones and burial chambers, project a kind of “Wuthering Heights” quality to them which is always enchanting. Considering how lovely such small patches of nature can be in an urban dwelling, regardless of how well or unwell kept they are, it always confused me as to way most urbanites still accept being surrounded by trash instead. Their own trash I should add.
Empty food containers, discarded coffee cups, and floating bags of potato-chip bags are the main entities which litter my urban landscape rather than vines and ferns. I suppose its just par for the course. Dense populations of people and pristine open landscapes are mutual exclusive and irreconcilable. I suppose it’s the uncompromising nature of this relationship that makes many urban dwellers somewhat indifferent and at time outright antagonistic to nature and its well-being; if we can’t enjoy it for ourselves, than to hell with it. So instead we’ll drive our cars to the grocery store, which is only 3 blocks away, rather than walk it and we’ll chuck a used napkin on the ground rather than place it in a trash bin which is 2 yards away. There’s no use to going out of ones way for the benefits of something which is out-of-sight and in turn out-of-mind.
I must admit, I may never get the chance to live a truly natural life surrounded by the beauty of the outdoors as my ancestors once did (I have a crippling fear of bugs and everything gives me a rash), but I still have a profound love and respect for nature. I feel for it, much in the same way I would feel for a distant friend, who though I have left and am forced to perhaps never see again, I always hold on to my feelings of affection and always have her/his best interests at heart.
So where do I begin. The fact is that though I may have had my friends best interest at heart, my actions haven’t always matched my intentions. I could do better. Much better, actually. I do have plenty to work with. Here in Queens, we still have wild dandelions, scallions, birds, and squirrels (although apparently all the chipmunks now reside in New Jersey, or so I’ve been told…). I’ve got this little plot of land, though looking fairly sickly, I can take better care of it. So let me start today. I’ll recycle, I’ll compost, I’ll change my habits and share everything I’ve learned and perhaps if enough little patches of wilderness pop up throughout the city a renewed attachment to nature might grow within this concrete jungle.

-Maria Isabel Olivera

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