What Can Gardeners Learn from Grizzly Man?

“Human place in nature”  is a topic I’m semi-obsessed with right now, and though it seems sorta esoteric, I think the issue has huge implications for gardeners and designers.

Here’s what got me all stirred up this time.

I just finished showing the 2005 film Grizzly Man to my English classes as part of a unit on documentary film.  For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s the story of the life and death of Timothy Treadwell, a self-proclaimed “kind warrior” who lived with the Grizzly bears in Katmai, Alaska for 13 summers in order to study and protect them.

Grizzly Man Theatrical Release Poster

Although Treadwell had a genuine love for animals and appeared to have better relationships with the bears than with other humans, he was actually killed and eaten by a Grizzly in October 2003.

Treadwell’s violent and somewhat ironic death is part of what makes the film fascinating, as is the question of whether he was a courageous hero or a lunatic narcissist.  But as I was watching the film with my classes this week, I was more intrigued by something else. 

The director of the film, Werner Herzog, clearly felt that Treadwell was — if not a lunatic — at least a misguided idealist. Though he might have had some sympathy for Treadwell, Herzog did not share the “kind warrior’s” warm fuzzy feelings about the natural world.  In his narration of the film, Herzog makes some bone-chilling statements about nature — statements that are in direct opposition to Timothy Treadwell’s romantic view of wilderness.  After a segment of the film in which a male grizzly kills a cub, Herzog reflects:

“I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder.”

When Treadwell looked into the eyes of a Grizzly, he saw a kindred spirit, a friend, a brother.  Herzog saw no such thing, just “the overwhelming indifference of nature.”

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Are Garden Designers Artists?

Art? Or merely Design?
The Highline, NYC http://www.inhabitat.com

When I’m not working, cleaning dishes, or yanking weeds, I like to kick back with a stiff drink and contemplate the differences between Art and Design.  I’ll admit, before I began my study of landscape design five years ago, I really did not have much exposure to the world of design — certainly not visual design anyway.  Except for one desktop publishing course, my college English courses were almost exclusively studies in poetry, fiction, and drama, all squarely in the “artsy” realm of language known as “literature.”

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The Nation’s Most Ironic Nature Refuge and The Trouble With Wilderness

Irony is a concept I struggle to teach to my students.  They sort of get it when I give them the classic example of a firehouse burning down.  Or when I present Alanis Morrisette’s song “Ironic” as an example of irony, since as we all know the song lyrics do not describe irony at all.

A buck at the Arsenal Refuge. Photo Credit: Aaron Rinker, USFWS

Now I have a new example I can give them: The Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Preserve.  This nature preserve, near Denver, Colorado, is built upon millions of tons of toxic chemicals.  During World War II, the US Army developed both incendiary and chemical weapons at the site, and later, Shell Oil moved in and used the facility to develop highly toxic pesticides.  Although the government and Shell undertook a massive clean-up operation back in the 1980’s, the site remained too toxic for any kind of intensive human use, like parkland or housing development.  So people stayed away.

But wildlife moved in.

Today, bald eagles roost in the tree tops, elk and deer forage in the woodlands, and ponds and streams teem with fish.  The refuge is home to one of the most successful short-grass prairie restoration projects in the country.

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Say It Ain’t So, NWF.

You're partnering with WHO?

I’m a little late to hop on this story, but I want to show some solidarity for my fellow garden/nature bloggers by adding my voice to the outcry against the National Wildlife Federation-Scott’s partnership.

The blogger who initiated the story was Carole Brown at the Wildlife Garden blog, and then I just read a good run-down of all the follow-up by Susan Harris over at Garden Rant.  I also read NWF’s defense of the partnership, and while they make it sound warm and fuzzy and songbird-friendly, it’s just hard to swallow.

I am not completely anti-chemical or anti-lawn, but there is no doubt that Scott’s pushes a regimen of lawn and yard care that is ridiculously overblown, unnecessary, and toxic.  And certainly not critter-friendly.  So NWF suddenly wanting to pal around with them smells like a Rattus rattus, no doubt about it.  Sorta like The American Lung Association partnering up with Phillip Morris and saying, “but they’re not that bad, and we don’t endorse all their products, and we’ll reach more people this way!”

The whole thing really makes me feel sad more than angry. I used to read Ranger Rick as a little kid.  Later my mom got me a subscription to NWF’s National Wildlife, and I used to cut out pictures of animals and stick them on my bedroom walls.  I know many people who have NWF’s “Certified Wildlife Habitat” signs displayed proudly in their yards, and I always thought that was a great program.  This new alliance with the purveyors of the infamous Four Step Clover and Insect Decimation Lawn Care Program….well, it kinda breaks my heart.