Tend: care for or look after; give one’s attention to.
A few years ago I was in the habit of taking long walks — slow meanders along the Valley Trail in Whistler.
The pace gave me time to observe the emergence and dying back of the various plants that grew alongside the trail through the fluctuations of the seasons. I also noted growing piles of cigarette butts scattered along the route. I thought about how for some animals, guided to food sources by their highly-acute noses, these small but numerous objects were not only an inconvenience but a stinky hindrance. And since my silent berating of those tossing the litter wasn’t doing much good, I decided that cleaning up the cigarette butts would be a more tangible act of care to extend towards these little creatures. Thus, the practice of earth-tending entered my life.
Sometimes it feels as though there’s not much I can do for the Earth. While glaciers are melting, tornados swirling and fires burning the Amazon rainforest, my rote environmental gestures of recycling and reducing meat intake seem pitiful. But somehow by making my gestures smaller, and more insignificant they became more personal too. It may not make a noticeable difference but I can choose to do these acts regardless, to microscopically tend to the earth as if each gesture is a show of respect for this living planet, our home.
This summer at my partner’s urging, we adopted a section of the Valley Trail to keep clear of the wildly tenacious burdock plant (as part of a Sea-to-Sky Invasive Species initiative). We would head out with clippers, gloves, a tarp and shovel and spend a few hours clearing a section. Before long my partner extended our range to the whole neighbourhood of Creekside and we removed seemingly tonnes of green matter.
In his mind the project was an eradication of a pesky plant; in my mind it was a type of guerrilla gardening, another act of tending. Instead of planting anything we were creating space for native plants to return (hopefully). In a way we hoped to ameliorate the heavy human footprint in the neighbourhood as seeds (via burrs) are often moved by humans and their canine companions. In some places the burdock was growing dense, thick. Walls of clinging burrs can limit passage for berry-foraging bears and small winged animals such as birds and bats can become trapped and even die in the tangle.
I had moments lamenting a summer spent in the ditches, thinking “What on earth are we doing out here, getting clubbed in the head and tangled-in-burrs instead of bbq-ing or at the lake” but then I’d see the street or patch that we’d cleared.
On some levels it felt never-ending but on other levels, it mattered. The caring mattered. And in the long run, it deepens my relationship with this place we call home.
I can’t pick up every piece of garbage I see, nor do I want to, but as I sit here in an airport lobby a bird is stuck indoors—flying around, trying to find an exit. It perched on the seat across from me and swivelled its head, looking for the way. I don’t always know how to work through my grief about the current state of the planet or the plight of creatures we share it with, but I do know that small acts of tending, of caring, seem to be a window out.