Sloth: The Upside of a Messy Park
Sometimes what looks like sloth is not. How a park should look is really about what a park should be and who it is for. Banish the uptight model of golf-course neatness and nature-friendly things begin to happen. This summer several deliberately ‘messy’ areas in Forest Hill Park have been filled with bees, butterflies, birds — and teenage kids.
The bees, butterflies and birds are there because both Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland have adopted a few pollinator-friendly maintenance strategies (based basically on sloth) in a few specific areas that have been set aside for pollinators.
Several years ago Cleveland Heights allowed me to try to turn an eroded field into a pollinator friendly meadow through the simple act of throwing down some leaf-humus (them) and throwing seeds around (me). Around the same time the County Board of Health funded the planting of native irises in the adjoining drainage swale. The first year was a bust for the iris. Iris or no iris, the city maintenance crew felt compelled to mow that swale to golf course neatness as they had always done …but then we had a really wet summer, they couldn’t mow, it was too wet, the iris took off, and have bloomed ever since.
Now you will find (in-season) iris, lupine, baptisia, gloriosa daisies, white daisies, pink cone flowers, bee-balm, lobelia, Queen Anne’s lace and more; …and fliting among them are Monarch, Sulpher, and Yellow Swallowtail butterflies, gold-finches, and an occasional hummingbird.
In the adjacent Great Meadow — in the East Cleveland part of the park — many patches of common milkweed have been carefully nurtured in the past few years (through organized sloth,) knowing how crucial the plant is to the life cycle and migration time-table of the Monarch Butterfly. While the meadow milkweed has finished its fragrant flowering, there are still Monarchs flying about.
Meanwhile, over by the pond, to the north, across Forest Hill Boulevard, in a patch of shoreline plantings (funded through a grant from United Airlines) a different variety of milkweed grows, as well as the very showy Hibiscus moscheutos, which is blooming now. Much of what used to be kept tidy is now allowed to grow unkempt – Goldenrod is creeping in, thanks to sloth. On hillsides sloping down to the water the grass has been allowed to grow long… which may look like sloth, but is in fact a deliberate choice. Canadian geese prefer grass kept golf course short. Longer grass discourages them, and also slows down and absorbs rainwater run-off laden with goose poop nutrients (a benefit of natural sloth).
And the kids in the park? Fourteen East Cleveland teens (through Youth Opportunities Unlimited) worked for six weeks with East Cleveland Parks Association volunteers. If asked what they would be doing if they were home, they individually all replied “sleeping”. Ah, sweet sloth. Instead they cleared the Lee Road fence-line of years of accumulated leaves; cleared the tennis courts so they could be re-surfaced; lopped grapevine and honeysuckle vines by the outflow dam; planted floating aeration islands to go in the lake; cleared weeds from the pedestrian bridge over Forest Hill Boulevard; learned how to identify trees; planted flowers; took nature walks, and a behind the scenes visit to the Museum of Natural History. Oh…and hung backward and upside down over the barrel-bench in the Great Meadow to experience the odd optical illusion that happens when you do that…So de rigueur.
There’s sloth and then there’s sloth: cheers to them both.
After my work-crew teens went home I stayed at
the bridge indulging my perfectionist tendencies
scraping the last of the moss and woody weeds
from the stone’s joints … and so discovered tucked
within a crack a tiny ring-necked snake pencil slim
perfect in its neat grey skin Minutes later riled
yellow-jackets swarmed from a hole stinging through
my gloves my clothes …and chased me from the bridge
They could not be allowed to live where people pass so
close each day …but later I thought… is the wasp less
perfect then the snake …are not all nature’s children
innocents living obedient to their calling… ? Each day
begins without fanfare is engaged unsuspecting not
knowing when the turn will come …if there will be one