Creating a Wildlife Haven, One Plant and One Stitch at a time

This is the first of a series of small quilts I am making as part of my Extinct 23 Redwork Project. As you may recall, I am stitching all 23 species delisted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2021. However, I wish to balance that act of grief with an exploration of future-oriented action and celebration in a series of quilts, also done in redwork, based on the native plants I’m growing in my yard.

When I moved to the suburbs two years ago, I had a real yard for the first time in my adult life. My house was built in the 1960s in Bowie, Maryland as part of a building boom after the NASA Goddard Space Facility was established here. Prior to that, this area was woods and farms.

And, prior to that, it belonged to the Piscataway native people whose Cedarville Band are, incidentally, currently fighting eviction from their cultural grounds in Charles County, Maryland. (If you would like to pay land tax to the tribe, you can visit this page. You can support the fight against the eviction by signing this petition and also donating to the ACLU, which is aiding the fight.)

I live on a large lot, at least for a subdivision. I love my house and this land, but I actually feel that, though we bought this house, the land is not ours. How can land belong to anyone when it is vital for all life, people, plants, and animals who live here? It belongs as much to the birds who visit our feeder, the rabbit that eats the clover and wild violets in our chemically-untreated lawn, and the barred owl we hear in our trees at night. And it belongs to the people who were here before.

My current best solution came to me after I read Nature’s Best Hope by Doug Tallamy, a wildlife ecologist who has argued that anyone with any patch of land turn that land into a haven for native plants for wildlife. He has been instrumental in launching the Homegrown National Park grass-roots effort to regenerate biodiversity one yard at a time.

So, last year, I started removing non-native species in my yard, especially the harmful and invasive ones and I began planting natives. What started as one pollinator garden in the back, has started to spread across the lot.

Okay, so about this quilt!

These three redwork embroideries, done in black, depict some of the pollinators I planted and then sketched last year. We have the obedient flower, which was a boon to bees, the bee balm plant, which drew bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to my yard, and the black-eyed susan cone flower, which is such a beauty and such a trooper to survive my sometimes clumsy attempts at amateur gardening!

This quilt was assembled using upcycled vintage fabric and it was entirely hand-stitched and hand-quilted. The act of slow-stitching is important as a metaphor for the slow work of healing the natural world.

I often feel so small and so imperfect. I am as selfish as anyone, easily taking a car to the grocery store, and I only have so much energy and time. But I think when you find what gives you joy and aligns with your values in balance with the earth’s systems – yeah, maybe it’s a tall order… but moving towards it is healing me as much as it is (I hope) healing the land.

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