Mini-mall nature

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There are the parks, preserves and woodlands. Hikes, trails and wetland walks. We are proud of our open spaces, viewsheds and forever wild efforts. They soothe us. But is there “nature” elsewhere?

I recently got a flat on I-287. I spent an hour waiting on the gravelly shoulder peering into the swale, that primordial soup of liquid, bone and chrome. (There was an old sock and a stuffed animal, too.) Beyond that were the Lands of the Edge: hearty weeds, scrawny trees, rough blasted rock face, a hubcap and a few soda bottles. This was not the “nature” I was comfortable with. Yet it was earth, tree, rock, water. I successfully put it out of mind.

Then I was at a car dealership service department in Middletown. Tired of waiting inside, I walked just up the hill to a dying mini-mall. It was a risky walk. There were no sidewalks, nor crosswalks. Drivers were not expecting pedestrians, so I was oddly invisible. There were only a few stores left in the mall and it wasn’t too busy, nor cared for. It was kind of raggy. The edges, fringes, the islands in this orphan mall were morphing from landscape to naturescape. Winds had brought in strong gypsy seeds, odd flowers and weeds. The once-ornamental trees were now full of sucker branches and shoots which supported vines and brambles, creating dark, protected areas for nests and dens. Common invasive trees had moved in. Again, not the “nature” in picture books or dentists’ offices. It’s shadow nature. The darkness that helps us see.

Once you start looking, this “elsewhere nature” is everywhere: behind stores, along railroad tracks, at interchanges, in parking lot corners, under bridges. We’ve all seen birds nesting in light poles. And you? Where have you run into these moments when nature irrupts through the modern world? Daniel Mack

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