Jennifer Dowdell
Landscape Architect, Biohabitats, Inc.

In my work at Biohabitats, I spend many hours noting patterns. Whether they are forms and patterns in the landscape, textures and patterns of habitat or hydrology on a map, or patterns of numbers, they all inform my craft. I approach these tasks with the same sense of wonder and curiosity as when I first saw photos taken by the LandSat 7 satellites, amazing abstract images of development patterns, climatic anomalies, and natural features – each pattern providing part of the story, and the history, of place.

On Earth Day, we seem to be bombarded with these types of grand images: open space, earth rising over the moon, natural wonders from 10,000 feet or more, etc. They reminded us to appreciate, preserve, conserve, restore, and live in harmony with Earth’s natural resources.

But this Earth Day, I plan to seek out patterns and natural wonders at a finer scale, in hopes of connecting in a new way to my own habitat: my home, yard, street, neighborhood, and region. I want to be better attuned to those subtleties that I may take for granted on a daily basis. I’ll take in the fragrances of the soil in my patio container gardens. I’ll go for a walk in my neighborhood early enough to hear the bird song or catch a glimpse of that red-tailed fox I’ve seen outside my house on occasion. I’ll also try to learn about local areas of natural significance. On the top of my list are the serpentine barrens at Bare Hills, just up the road from us here at Biohabitats.

Serpentine barrens are rare, unique ecosystems known for their seemingly bleak conditions – toxicity for many plants and low nutrient concentrations- but which have provided habitat for a unique plant community containing rare and endemic plant species. There are only a few such places in Maryland, and one of them is right here, practically under my nose. And yet I have never sought it out.

And so I pose this challenge to you: seek out the small wonders, the ones we often ignore but that provide us connections to place. This Earth Day, consider becoming an eco-tourist in your own town.

Further Reading

Ecosystem Prosthetics: A Pier Review
Pandemic Pause
E+D Podcast with Keith Bowers: The state of ecology and design in landscape architecture
Living Infrastructure: Green is great, but alive is even better
Water, Equity, and Ecology in Urban Planning

More From This Author

March on!
Earth Day Musings