Re-wilding of Urban Omaha

Henry David Thoreau is for many a champion of wilderness, but he was for his entire life an urbanite, a city-dweller like most of us in the 21st century. Even when he lived briefly at Walden, he did not live in wild solitude; Walden was more like a city park than a wilderness area, and he often entertained visitors in his cabin and went into town several times a week. For me, that makes his thoughts on the human experience of nature most compelling. Thoreau sought to discover wildness at the heart of human civilization and bustling city life.

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Black oak (Quercus veluntina), germinated from wild local acorns, planted by volunteers, and growing in the heart of Omaha. (Photo by Robert Smith.)

The Naturalist School takes this to heart. Sure, we spend lots of time helping people from all walks to walk wildly in wild places, but we also work hard to help communities throughout North America discover and cultivate wildness at home. That’s what we’re doing in Omaha; we’ve established a native woodland arboretum right in the heart of the city, and we’re in the process of bringing a measure of wildness to Omaha’s Old Market.

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Shumard oak acorns (Quercus shumardii) collected in western Iowa by The Naturalist School members. (Robert Smith.)

We began this project a few years ago, and our wild trees grown from native seed have thrived. Our members collect wild seeds and nurture them into robust saplings, and we love to plant them and watch them grow. We have been invited by the Downtown Improvement District to plant a measure of native nature once again, but not with a frumpy and rangy wildness that Thoreau might have preferred. Rather we have worked with the D.I.D. and the city of Omaha to develop guidelines for green space plantings that express Nebraska’s natural heritage, and that give residents and visitors a breath of fresh local wildness until they can get back to the woods and prairies that await them.

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Native prairie grasses, soon to appear in the Old Market. (Photo by Sarah Berkeley.)

Come and see what we’re up to, or even help us plant wild oaks and native grasses on Sunday, November 5th on Howard Street between 11th and 12th, south side, at 2pm. No tools or experience is required, just a love of nature and living in town.