Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Neighborhood Habitats: Other People’s Yards February 1, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Bugs,Mammals,Neighborhood Habitats,Plants,Trees,Wildflowers — saltthesandbox @ 5:12 pm
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Houses in our neighborhood are fairly old and tightly packed together. Looking at the photos on this page, that’s what many see: The houses, and the streets and snow. When I look at these photos, I see the trees, bushes, and narrow lawns — and I remember all the seasons my boys and I spent searching for bugs and squirrels, leaves and seeds, rocks and birds in the habitat along our streets.

Front yards have both public tree lawns and narrows stretched of primate lawn and garden.

Front yards include both public tree lawns and narrow stretches of private space, for lawns and gardens.

In our neighborhood, front yards are social places, dominated by big trees between the sidewalk and the street. Kids run freely under the trees, on the grass and sidewalks, while their parents talk.

Many years ago most parkway trees were American Elms, and streets looked like this one, a few blocks from our home:

A few streets in our neighborhood are still lined with lots of elms.

A few streets in our neighborhood are still lined with American Elms.

When I was young, tiny beetles began carrying a fungus tree to tree. The fungus killed most elms that it infected. (They called it Dutch Elm Disease, but Dutch people weren’t to blame.) By cutting down infected trees, Village foresters have saved many elms, as least for now. When the elms could not be saved, foresters replaced them with a mix of species: Maples, basswoods, oaks, catalpa, and more.

Most streets a lined with a mix of trees, planted to replace the elms as they died.

Most south Oak Park streets are lined with a mix of trees, planted to replace the elms that died.

When I walk down a street like this, it feels like an arboretum — a tree museum reminding me of wild places I have been. Sycamores remind me of river floodplains, bald cypress of southern swamps, and hackberries of the South Dakota Badlands, where fossil hackberry seeds lie buried with bones of extinct mammals.

Neighbors get creative between the sidewalk and their porch. Some front gardens are formal, planted with flowers and shrubs from around the world. More natural gardens grow native flowers from prairie or woodland. Some folks decorate front yards with carved animals, benches, or rocks. (We’re among the rock folk — our “rock hound garden” holds a dozen kinds of landscape gravel.)

Back yards are private spaces, fenced off from their neighbors. Each back yard is different, a unique mix of gardens, trees, and space for kids and adults to play.

Back yards are private spaces, each unique and fenced off from the neighbors' yards.

Back yards are private spaces, each unique and fenced off from the neighbors' yards.

Although back yards aren’t big enough for baseball, they’re good places for free-ranging butterflies, birds, and lightning bugs. But kids can’t run free behind our houses — without an invitation, you can’t visit a neighbor’s back yard.

Alleys are the wildest spaces close to home. Most plants here grow on their own, with a new crop of tree seedlings and weedy wildflowers every year. Neglected, some wild trees grow many meters tall.

Oak Pakr alleys are the wildest places close to home, places to see raccoons and possums in your headlights, and seedling descendents of the front-yard giant trees.

Oak Park alleys are the wildest places close to home.

For our family, alleys are for exploration. We peek into neighbors’ back yards, hunt bugs under rocks, and see raccoon and possum eyes glowing in the headlights when we drive the alley after dark. Last fall, I saw a Red Fox in broad daylight in the alley shown above.

This page tells stories based on what we’ve seen and done in seasons past. During seasons to come, we’ll use this blog to tell stories about this year’s nature in our neighborhood.


One Response to “Neighborhood Habitats: Other People’s Yards”

  1. […] Columbus Park woodland is a mix of living trees and dead ones, in all stages of decay. In Oak Park, our houses and streets are set in what some call an “urban forest.” But when I visit a real woods, I can see […]

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