Stewards of the Earth


As Christians we are to serve as stewards of the Earth we live in.

I recently came upon this story about a woman who lives in the town where I write. It was published in this week's paper. This sort of thiong happens a lot, although the circumstances can vary greatly. I thought you might like to discuss it.


‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’
-- Is LeRoy property ‘natural habitat’ or blight?
by Ginger Holm
Gail Manahan left the June City Council meeting with a sigh of relief, as council members gave her a 30-day reprieve concerning the appearance of her property at 609 W. County Road South, in LeRoy, Minn.
On May 28, 2011, Manahan received a letter from the City of LeRoy ordering her to mow her lawn on a regular basis or the City would mow it for her and she would be billed for the service. City Ordinance, Section 92.16, subdivision (h) was cited in the letter.
Manahan requested being put on the June 6 agenda to address the council concerning the matter. She stated, when she moved to LeRoy in August 2005, the majority of her property was pastureland and her goal was to return that land to natural habitat to support "biodiversity, including soil organisms, insects, birds, butterflies and other wildlife."
The City, however, insists all the property is lawn and, therefore, needs to be mowed according to the City ordinance. Council members stated they believe Manahan's property is not being maintained, but neglected.
Manahan insists she is maintaining her property through mowing specific areas, planting native foliage in other areas and removing weeds throughout the property.
"So far, I have inter-planted red oak, arrow-wood, hawthorn, coneflowers, asters, purple prairie clover, red milkweed, and butterfly weed on my property," said Manahan in a statement she read to the council. "I garden organically and compost all vegetable matter. I also regularly cut down or dig out noxious weeds. In doing these things, I will reduce my use of fossil fuels, reduce air pollution, and reduce my carbon output, which contributes to global climate change."
She asked the council to reconsider its position claiming the City's ordinance is old and outdated, and requested the City adopt a "natural landscaping ordinance". She provided a model ordinance from another city, which was written in 2008, for the council to review and consider, as well as providing other information to inform the council of her position.
Manahan further stated, "This [discussion] has been going on for 40 years across the country. The ordinance you are citing is considered the first ordinance in a series of an evolution of weed ordinances . . . many municipalities have thrown it out."
"The vision [in the ordinance] is a 'golf course' vision. You mow everything down and everything is really neat, and you have a right to that vision, but I have a different vision and aesthetic," she said
"What I would like you to tell us is how you manage [your property]?" requested Mayor Kathy Farlinger.
Manahan stated she uses the DNR Website to identify noxious weeds and either digs them out or, on occasion, selectively uses Roundup to kill specific plants at the root.
"I mow all around my buildings. I have a garden area, I mow around that and around my raspberry bushes," she said.
Manahan explained that her lawn is kept mowed, and the rest of her property is a work in progress.
"I am trying to maintain the habitat I have and encourage it to survive, by adding more native plants. The native plants crowd out a lot of the [weeds]" she explained. "I can't just go in overnight and change everything. I have to go in and continually add things and monitor what is there."
"It's a whole life system," Manahan continued. "You should see it. I have dozens of birds nesting there. I have red-winged blackbirds who lost their habitat just south in an area they used to use every year. The killdeer who used to nest around here lost their habitat. They used to be here ‘til September. There are no killdeer in my neighborhood now. I have dozens and dozens of birds happily living in those trees, living off all the caterpillars and insects; so the system is working."
"I have a lot of birds in my yard, and I do mow," countered council member Linda Sanders. "I drove by your place tonight, and I'm sorry, but it just looks like weeds to me."
"And that's part of what happens," responded Manahan. "Until people understand what the plant's function is, it looks like weeds because it is not grass."
"If you drive around town, you will see your 'aesthetics' all over town in these homes that are foreclosed on," said council member Harold Shipman. "To be quite honest, I think it looks like hell."
"And that's your opinion," said Manahan. "I would also like you to consider where my property is. It is on a commercial block, it is backed up by commercial buildings facing south toward Iowa. I am out on the edge of town. I am not in the middle of town with everybody else with their mowed lawns. I bought it because it was kind of isolated. You have to go out of your way to go by my place. My property is normally mowed all along the perimeter. It is a wildlife sanctuary and I have a right to it."
"It's in the City limits of LeRoy. All the City ordinances apply to all the citizens," said Shipman.
Another concern brought up by the City (apart from the discussion with Manahan at the June 6 meeting) was a brush pile the City contends is a fire hazard. Manahan, who works from her home as a ceramic artist, claims the woodpile is used to pit fire ceramic pots.
"It is a brief process, less than an hour, of burning that gives the pottery a naturally-colored surface ranging from white to black," she said in a brief interview the day after the meeting.
Before leaving the meeting Manahan made one final comment.
"I have constitutional rights that provide for my freedom to choose my own aesthetic on my property," she stated. "If the council decides to move forward on trespassing and destroying, I want two weeks written notice on the time and date of such action."
A 30-day reprieve was granted to Manahan when Farlinger asked the council to consider letting the issue "stay for a month and then do a field check" to inspect the property.
"I don't think I'll change my mind, but if that is what [the council] wants to do,..." shrugged Shipman.
Council members agreed to travel to the Manahan property the day before the July council meeting to "see if there is any improvement." City council members declined to comment outside of the council meeting.

Having grown up in the country amid the trees and swamps of northern Minnesota, I find myself being sympathetic to Gail Manahan. A lot of beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and some of that appreciation of beauty is based on understanding what it is that you are looking at. I think the city council should approach this with an open mind and let Gail give them a guided tour of her property. They might want to consider modifying their municipal codes based on what they see and learn. Of course, there are considerations which go beyond arbitrary aesthetics. Birds and butterflies are nice, but what about skunks? Then there is the argument that the codes and ordinances were in place before she bought the property and she should have been aware of them at the time of purchase. I haven't seen this property, its location, or its size, so my sympathies are based on general ideas rather than Gail's specific situation.
I'm in favour of the wildlife garden in principle but like Rumely, I'd need to see the property etc. before being able to think it right or wrong for the specific location.

I'm aware of the skunk's defence mechanism but are these animals really a problem/pest? We don't have them in the UK but they look quite nice to me.


This is what I know about skunks:

Skunks are nocturnal animals, so if you see one in the daytime - stay away - good idea to stay away at night, too. LOL

A skunk can spray up to 20 feet! If you ever get close enough to a skunk and he is posturing you must not move. If you see a skunk with his tail in the air pointing your way bouncing from one foot to foot, that means he is posturing and getting ready to spray you. This is how they posture or threaten.
Stand perfectly still I don’t care what the skunk does, but you don’t move. Play like you are a petrified tree. If you move, he will spray!!

He may walk up, sit down and look at you. He may make circle around you, but he’ll always keep his nose pointed at you to see what you are going to do. If you move, he’ll turn around and let you have it.
But if you remain perfectly still, they don’t have much patience and he’ll eventually walk away.

However, skunks can carry rabies and I expect that would make their behavior unpredicable.

If I ever get my book written, I am going to include a story about How to pet a skunk! It's possibly to do it and not get sprayed - I know someone who did - but I wouldn't advise trying it. Actually, he didn't quite get away with it. After he petted it, and was backing away, he tripped and the skunk let him have it - full force.
I see, thanks.

Re rabies: fortunately we are rabies free in the UK. Just looking up at one site, the last time someone got it from an animal in the UK and died from it was 1902 although apparently a licensed bat handler did die from a rabies like virus (called European Bat Lyssavirus) in 2002.

I'm not sure how I'd feel if I thought there was a risk of rabies being carried by a creature.
A situation which arises around here frequently is urban sprawl encroaching on what used to be farmland. A city will expand or a new development will sprout up on former farmland. The new residents will then start complaining about the smells and noise of the livestock, the dust from fieldwork, and the old machinery in the grove. Never mind that the land has probably been in the family for generations. You know, if you buy a house next to a hog farm, you might expect to get a whiff or two of fermenting hydrocarbons when the wind is right.
You hear about that sort of thing over here, usually someone who has bought a house in the country and then maybe complains about a cockerel crowing. It's not always farm things though. You do hear of people buying properties next to pubs and then complaining about customers coming in and out...

I not sure if they can do it in the UK now but I think the worst farm smell I came across was not from an animal but from the boiling up (or whatever they did with it) of pig swill.


That reminds me of when I bought a house about 50 feet from the railroad tracks! In the summer, the train came thru every 15 minutes. The house would shake and the noise would wake me. I thought I had made a teerible mistake, but after the first week I got used to it and wasn't bothered by the trains. :)
It can be surprising what you can switch off to. I've worked in factories and most of the time become sort of unaware of the machinery noise and vibration. On the other hand, there can be noises that you focus on and they somehow seem to get louder and louder and driving you nuts. We've had people stay over and sleep in the living room finding the grandmother clock preventing them sleep and we've had to stop it. Me, when I do notice it, I think it's got a soothing "tick tock".

As for environmental noises, there are two that can get to me where I live. There is a small airfield probably less than a mile from us as the crow flies. The planes are OK, even a rare noisier one doing some loop the loops - they are at least fun to watch, but some summers days, you can get a swarm (and the way they buzz, they sound like one) of powered para gliders that just seem to hang around in the sky rather than going anywhere much. The other one is military air craft. Not the ones seeming to clip the trees and make you jump (we get a couple a year - used to get a few more but that reduced when the RAF Jaguar base nearby was closed) but occasionally we get ones that sometimes seem to be so high up in the sky that you can't see them and make a noise that sounds like thunder rumbling away.

The one I suppose I ought to be more aware of is traffic. If you imagine a sort of Y shape marking the main roads, our bungalow and two semis would be near the top right of the Y about 30 yards from the road (the rest of the space in the Y is farm land a say 90 acre field where our veg plot is. There is traffic passing all day but about all I do notice is the occasional screech of brakes (and a couple of times bangs...) - I think usually when someone coming from the top right is late seeing a road junction is approaching, the occasional driver who seems to feel the need to entertain everyone with his music (you know thump thump thump) and the odd emergency vehicle with sirens going.
Trains have never bothered me. One year I lived across the street from the switching yards. I found the sound of trains switching at night rather soothing.

I do remember how hard it was to sleep when staying overnight at my Grandma's apartment in town when I was a kid. She lived downtown and the sound of trucks, cars, and motorcycles rumbling and revving all night kept me awake most of the night.


I think it's a matter of what you're used to. If you are used to sleeping in dead silence, then even little noises bother.