Design for Life: Planting Seeds of Inspiration

One community's vision and realization of a wildlife habitat helps inspire other communities to help the environment by preserving wildlife.

| March/April 2005

  • Elaine Neiswender is encouraging Forestville, California, to become a backyard wildlife ­habitat.
    Photo By Carol Venolia
  • Elaine Neiswender is encouraging Forestville, California, to become a backyard wildlife ­habitat.

If you’re like me, you often wonder what just one person can do to help your community and heal the web of life, so I was delighted to hear Elaine Neiswender speak at a recent meeting of the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Stewards group I belong to. Elaine’s story made it clear to me that with an accessible vision, dedication and delegation, one person can indeed make a big difference.

One day last year, Elaine was picking herbs on a large vacant lot in her town of Forestville, in northern California’s So­no­ma County. Elaine, who owns Earth Trea­sures Landscaping, was interested in natural healing and loved to create wildlife habitats. In the wake of a disabling auto collision, she was looking for a new direction. As she foraged, a vision swept over her: to make Forestville a community wildlife habitat and a mecca for natural healing. The heart of all this activity would be a Joyful Living Center, right on the spot where she was gathering herbs.

Elaine went home and began to draw, and within an hour she had diagrammed the whole vision. She learned that a local developer was planning a mixed-use project on the property where she’d been herb gathering, and she could see her concept as part of his. Elaine joined the Forestville Planning Committee, and she began talking about her ideas to everyone who would listen—and a lot of people listened.

Within months, Forestville residents have embraced the vision of community wildlife habitat. A group of natural healers is planning the Forestville Joyful Living Center with the encouragement of Orrin Thiessen, the Forestville Square developer, and people and businesses all over the county are getting swept up in the project.

Providing habitat for small animals is fairly simple and has had an immense positive impact. “Our emotional nature needs healing, and gardens are so nurturing,” says Elaine. “But we’re not just heal­ing ourselves; we’re nurturing all kinds of living things.” By growing native plants that provide food and shelter for birds, bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects, she’s bringing delight to humans who are inspired by helping rebuild the damaged web of life.

“I feel like the whole earth is groaning,” Elaine observes. “We’ve become so in­sensitive to life in general—not just human life, but the butterflies, the in­sects, everything. I can’t postpone doing something good any longer. There’s got to be a way to heal both humans and wildlife and to help people understand the connections between the two.”

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