Book Review: Nature’s Second Chance

Have you ever wondered about Mother Nature’s counterpart, Father Nature?

Look no further than ecologist and artist of nature, Steven Apfelbaum. You could even call him Father Nature. His book, Nature’s Second Chance: Restoring the Ecology of Stone Prairie Farm (Beacon, 2009), offers an engaging and refreshingly personal narrative of how, as humans, we can reconnect with the land, our community, and our true selves through restoration work on the land. (The book is also available as an eBook.)

“Dirty hands and sweat welded my relationship with Stone Prairie Farm … where I have worked to give nature a second chance,” writes Apfelbaum in the book’s Introduction. “My years of planting, of nurturing the resurgence of prairie, wetland, and forest cover where eroded fields once lay exposed, have created a deep, direct connection to nature.” The land became his home, love, passion, and peace — even the humble beginnings for his livelihood after launching the ecological consulting firm, Applied Ecological Services, Inc., and Taylor Creek Restoration Nurseries — both exemplary triple bottom businesses.

Apfelbaum’s inspiration, like many in his field, was renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold who so clearly enunciated a vision for a land ethic to guide our human relationship with all of nature: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it does otherwise.”

If you’ve ever read Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, finding it hard to put down, then Nature’s Second Chance is your chance to witness the ecological wonder as Steven Apfelbaum transforms his tired farmstead once used to grow corn crops into a Midwestern paradise: a biologically diverse and healthy prairie, with wetland, forest and spring brook. Leopold’s writings culminated in the land ethic philosophy. Nature’s Second Chance puts it into practice, not only at Apfelbaum’s eighty acre Stone Prairie Farm over a period of thirty years, but at the Prairie Crossing “conservation development” north of Chicago and, perhaps, in a community near you though projects spearheaded by the now internationally-acclaimed, multimillion dollar ecological restoration business, Applied Ecological Services.

Writes Apfelbaum: “I envisioned a network of restored lands that would reconnect dispersed and isolated habitats. This may be viewed as an ecological systems approach to rethinking the landscape or a community land ethic where the health of the land — not just of individually owned parcels — is a measure of land community vitality.”

This highly readable treatise on a more ecologically mindful approach to living on the land provides both enlightening anecdotes and descriptive policy changes needed that will allow us to restore the health of diverse ecological systems on which our own very survival is based. Through his work both at Prairie Stone Farm and with Applied Ecological Services, Apfelbaum rekindles the spirit of service to all of creation, with humans, themselves, playing the central role in nurturing the renewal work so crucial in this Century and in the emerging restoration economy.

Apfelbaum’s narrative is filled with humor and honesty, balanced by his scientific acumen that comes from years of observing just how nature works. Nature’s Second Chance demonstrates that with a lot of patience, a fair bit of hard work, keen observation and a commitment to stewarding the land, we can make a difference. If we all start practicing the land ethic in our neighborhoods, parks, corporate headquarters, communities, and, yes, on small farms like ours at Inn Serendipity, nature will heal itself — if just give it a second chance.

“This is a critical period in evolutionary history,” writes Apfelbaum. “Our own survival depends on being as cooperative and adaptive as nature.” For this reason alone, Nature’s Second Chance warrants a careful read.

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