When this this land was settled, aka stolen from its first residents, we reinvented it into our vision of what we thought a land should be. We brought our food crops, our favorite flowers, the herbs from our Motherlands. We did this before we even knew or understood the land we had come to. We replaced its river valleys with cities, its rolling prairies with agriculture, its woods with suburban housing.
Nowhere is the reinvention of land more complete than in Iowa, where less than 0.1% of the native prairie remains. The rest has been turned into structure, yard, or farm, and many of Iowa’s residents would be hard-pressed to identify the native flora and fauna that graced the land before our arrival.
We replaced this delicate and diverse ecosystem, tens of thousands of years in the making, with our RoundUp-Ready crops, our European lawns, our progress. We ‘developed’ it, we like to say.
Our development was no improvement to the species which were lost: the passenger pigeon, the blue pike, the eastern elk, the Carolina parakeet. It was no improvement to the ones who were extirpated: martens, bison, prairie dogs, and porcupines. And certainly not to the species left clinging to the fringes of our domain: whooping cranes, box turtles, prairie chickens, and the beloved Monarch.
Our water is poison. We can’t swim in our lakes, we can’t eat the fish from our rivers, we can’t harvest the season’s deer and safely eat the flesh.
What native bees, birds, bugs and creatures which remain are here in spite of us, not because of us.
What’s more we are woefully unacquainted with them. The ubiquity of non-native species at every lawn and garden shop encourages us to chose whatever flora or fauna catches the eye and nets the biggest profit, even though those are the type of choices which brought us the chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease, and most lately the emerald ash borer.
Folks are more likely to identify the invasive Chinese pampas grass as native before recognizing the sweet grass that once filled endless acres of the American prairie.
But we can change all that.
Let me introduce you to the gems and wonders of this place. See their beauty and learn about their bounty with me, let us learn to appreciate their gifts.
And if, like me, you grow to love them, then let us become stewards.
We can do it in our own front yards.