Appreciating Your Own Back Yard
On our islands it’s all about WIMBY
Beach houses are built for the view: you enter from the front yard but you behold (and are held) by what’s in the backyard. Here on our special islands, where there is more land in conservation than in development, the warmth of nature’s embrace beckons not just from sand and shells, but also from aromatic stands of mangrove and vast, vibrant interior wetlands. So, on these islands where the focus is often on NIMBY ( not in my backyard), we should instead turn our attention to WIMBY, or “What’s in my backyard?”
The articulate naturalist, Henry David Thoreau, had similar concerns. In 1862 The Atlantic published his essay, “Walking,” which extolls the virtues of “sauntering through the woods” and laments the inevitable expansion of private property into the wilderness. His fondness for swamps brings to mind the character of our low-lying barrier island locale: Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps … Why not put my house, my parlor, behind this plot, instead of behind that meager assemblage of curiosities, that poor apology for Nature and Art, which I call my front yard? It is an effort to clear up and make a decent appearance when the carpenter and mason have departed, though done as much for the passer-by as the dweller within. The most tasteful front-yard fence was never an agreeable object of study to me; the most elaborate ornaments, acorn-tops, or what not, soon wearied and disgusted me. Bring your sills up to the very edge of the swamp, then (though it may not be the best place for a dry cellar), so that there be no access on that side to citizens. Front yards are not made to walk in, but, at most, through, and you could go in the back way.
Thoreau, like every environmentalist, fervently believed that one’s interaction with nature was not just good for personal sanity but essential for the well-being of our society. We need good and plentiful ground on which to live and move and have our being. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Granting legal status to emancipated slaves, it affirms the ancient principle in law called jus soli (“right of the soil”). If one is born on the land, one becomes a native citizen among those who live in the land. It is a notion that may have moved American writer and conservationist Nancy Newhall to make a profound statement: “Conservation is humanity caring for the future.”
In the spirit of those with island backyards, we celebrate the wish of Richard Jefferies (aka England’s “Thoreau”): “I hope succeeding generations may enjoy their days, and the earth, and the beauty of this beautiful world; that they may rest by the sea and dream.”