Book Review – Rambunctious Garden

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A backyard wild thing

For me, wilderness is defined by the forest I grew up beside, as it was nature I could directly interact with – which I did a lot. I knew where the yellow violets grew, where the best huckleberries could be found and where the best climbing trees were. The decaying stumps from logged out old-growth forest acted as constant reminders, for all the good qualities of this piece of wilderness, it could not be considered pristine.

In Rambunctious Garden, Emma Marris questions our notion of a pristine wilderness suggesting that no such place exists and perhaps never did. As she puts it: “Every ecosystem, from the deepest heart of the largest national park to the weeds growing behind the local big-box store, has been touched by humans. We have stirred the global pot, moved species around, turned up the thermometer, domesticated a handful of plants and animals and driven extinct many more.”

The books is about ecology in an accessible way, neither over simplified or too complex, covering some potentially radical ideas on how to conserve nature including alternate definitions of what should be included as nature. It’s a book inline with my own interests with concepts new to me like rewilding (a topic that I’m now hearing about everywhere), assisted migration and novel ecosystems.

She calls us to “…temper our romantic notion of untrammelled wilderness and find room next to it for the more nuanced notion of a global, half-wild rambunctious garden, tended by us.” Her definition of wilderness includes the not-pristine forest of my youth, allowing it to fit amongst the places worth conserving. Although, I no longer have a forest on my doorstep, I’m certainly aiming for a rambunctious home garden where plenty of wildness can still thrive. Overall, I liked the book and it has certainly gotten me thinking.

As a tangent, my eighth grade science fair project was directly inspired by the dark and damp regions of this forest. Under the shade of the big trees, I collected different species of mosses and tested their absorbency. Perhaps an early step towards the road to becoming a scientist that I’m on now.

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