Nature’s Balancing Act

If you ever doubted the interdependent web of all existence, the orange daylight sun in Chicago — after wildfires went on a rampage in Canada — was an eerie reminder that what affects one part of the planet affects us all. This interdependence is apparent everywhere. In giving garden tours recently in Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park, I met people from Peru, Australia, and a botanist from Switzerland. Discussing shared international interests in plants is one step toward a peaceful planet.

Meanwhile in Lurie Garden, a bushy-tailed red fox nurtures 6 kits in the romper rooms of several tree surrounds along a garden sidewalk. With many mouths to feed, the garden is agitated with activity under the foliage past twilight. Bunnies and birds beware! The Fox clan is a relentless and voracious hunting party, yet very affectionate with their cute kits.           

Consider baby fox facts:

  • Fox kits have such acute hearing that they can hear mouse squeaks from 100 meters. They detect rodents when they dig underground.
  • Scent also is keen. Baby fox odor is comparable to skunk spray! It is fox fragrance for identification, marking territory, and later mating. 
  • This acute sense of smell detects threats, communicates within the fox family, as well as finds fox food favorites (mice and birds).

Food-finding is interdependent and a balancing act for all critters, including humankind. One suggestion for families to better feed themselves comes from Cara Rockwell, a professor at Florida International University. After her initial Peace Corps volunteer work in agroforesty in Paraguay, she is dedicated to natural resource management research. She studies “food forests.”

In her own yard in Miami, Rockwell created a “forest” of 10 edible species in a six-square-foot patch. She grows taro in the ground, spinach above ground, and has passion fruit vines climb a trellis: a mulberry tree, a star fruit, and a dwarf mango flutter overhead. She claims that her food forest is more resilient with its tight planting in the high temperatures and long dry spells of Floridian summers.  

Elaine Fiore is another Florida food forest enthusiast. She helped create 24 food forests for schools in Broward County. School children are taught microclimate knowledge. Some kids enhance their “forest” with toy dinosaurs. In one enterprising garden, iguana families devoured a third of the garden, especially the young sweet potato vines. Beware of iguanas! Fiore’s future plans include using any produce in school cafeterias for better nutrition for kids. This has amazing possibilities.

Primatologist Jane Goddall advises, “Only if we understand, will we care.”

In my backyard forest I watched a foraging robin tip-toe closer to me while I was seated in soil, digging up chickweed from overtaking my stepping-stones. When I did not seem threatening, Robin kept hopping a few inches closer until we were 2 feet apart. Interdependently, s/he seemed to ask, “Where’s the worm?”

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz

187. What bit of land do you have access to for food-forest produce? 188. How might our planet feed people better with interdependence in mind?        

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

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