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Redecorating our Guest Room

Normally when I entertain esteemed guests, I put my best finery on display. The fine china, the heirloom serving dishes, the best linens. I clean places and spaces to a degree that I haven’t since the last time I entertained. You all know the drill.

A view of the field that stretches along St. Mary’s Road next to the east entrance of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

For our Friends

So, I’m a little embarrassed by the mess on display right now for some of my all-time favorite guests: Our pollinator friends. For the last five years, the Sisters of Providence have devoted 90 acres of commodity crop land here at the Woods to pollinator habitat. Think of it as the guest room for the birds, bees, bats, beetles, butterflies, moths, and other critters who delight and amaze us with their gifts.

In 2016, we enrolled that land into the USDA Conservation Reserve Program for 10 years in an effort to plan species that will improve environmental health and quality for pollinator and wildlife habitat. We took it out of crop production and planted all manner of grasses, forbs, and perennial and annual flowers like milkweed, black-eyed Susan’s, and rattlesnake master. This mixture mimics the classic Indiana prairie of old and gives shelter and food to a group of critters vital to our food supply. You’ll find these fields north of the north alpaca pasture wrapping around the Nature Trail all the way up to Bolton Road (this field is now owned by Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College). The other fields stretch along St. Mary’s Road east of the east entrance to the campus.

An absolute need

Even if you already know this, it bears repeating: Every one in three bites of food we consume requires a pollinator to bring it to fruition. One in three. If you know me for more than, oh say, 15 minutes, you’ll likely pick up on the fact that I really like to eat. So, it causes me no small amount of distress to know that our pollinator friends are stressed and in decline. Perhaps there are no better examples of how interdependent we humans are with all creatures great and small. The truth is we need them all for our food supply. Happily, we provide this land for their health and well-being. Truly, our own health and well-being depends on them.

But their room here at the Woods is a mess right now as we fulfill our mid-contract management commitment on that land. To ensure its health for the long-term, we mowed the fields and prepared them for a replanting of seed this winter. It’s looking pretty drab right now. This process, however, will reinvigorate the existing growth and fill in spaces and species that perhaps didn’t establish well at initial planting. I guess I should just think of this as redecorating the guest room. Come Spring, it will be resplendent and guest-worthy again.

Anything for my favorite guests.

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Lorrie Heber

Lorrie Heber is the director of White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence. You can find her on Twitter at @LorrieHeber.

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11 Comments

  1. Dawn Tomaszewski on October 20, 2021 at 7:01 am

    Thanks for being such a wonderful hostess, Lorrie! We are grateful for the care you give to all of creation!

  2. Mary Montgomery on October 20, 2021 at 8:59 am

    Great article, Lorrie! I am delighted we are replanting/decorating the guest room! Can’t wait to see the planting and the results that grow for our special guests!

  3. Jeanne Hagelskamp, SP on October 20, 2021 at 9:34 am

    What a creative way to look at it! Thank you for taking care of our little creatures…and of us, Lorrie!
    It will be interesting to see what those little ones get to enjoy next year!

  4. Maria Price on October 20, 2021 at 9:53 am

    This reminded me of a favorite quote by Henry David Thoreau, “I have a room all to myself; it is nature.”

    May we always be so aware of our place on Earth and in the universe.

  5. Maureen Abbott, SP on October 20, 2021 at 10:01 am

    Such a delightful way to expound such a basic truth! Thanks for all you’re doing to welcome these not-so-lowly critters of God’s astonishing creation to share our woodland home.

  6. Barbara Bluntzer on October 20, 2021 at 10:05 am

    Lorrie, I loved the way you told us about this important endeavor! Won’t it be great to see all the buzzing and flying that will go on in that special area next year! Thanks to you, we have such wonderful things goin on “right in our own back yard” .

  7. Donna Butler on October 20, 2021 at 10:39 am

    Lorrie,
    Thank you for a lovely article and a response to a less than welcoming habitat for some very important guests.

  8. Marsha speth on October 20, 2021 at 11:21 am

    Happy to know this!
    Thank you!

  9. Denise Wilkinson on October 20, 2021 at 2:38 pm

    I love and needed your explanation, Lorrie. I had a vague notion of what the fields are for and why they look the way they look now; but now I have an understanding – much better than a notion. Thanks!

  10. Jenny Howard on October 20, 2021 at 5:45 pm

    Thanks Lorrie for the beautiful reminder of how we have chosen to offer our fields at this time! Can’t wait to see what spring will bring!

  11. Cynthia MacWhorter on October 21, 2021 at 4:25 pm

    Love what the Sisters have done! A true extension of their overall mission.

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