When the mother bird saw us coming, she whipped up her right wing as if she was going to take flight, but as we watched from the edge of the garden, she never actually left her nest. Not wanting to disturb her, my husband, Bob, and I quietly inched away from the rain garden and tiptoed back to the preschool wing of Temple Isaiah in Howard County.
The peculiar little brown bird is a killdeer, so named for its warning sound. It’s also known for nesting on the ground, including at golf courses and in parking lots. In our case, the female and her noisy male companion decided that the rounded stones in the middle of our 1,620-square-foot rain garden at Temple Isaiah provided the perfect spot for laying eggs this spring. And the birds were right.
The garden is tucked in against the back wall of our synagogue in Fulton. Fortunately for the birds, a chain-link fence separates the garden and the children, who were thrilled by the nest but cautioned by their teachers not to disturb it.
The rain garden’s main purpose is to mimic nature’s way of handling water from storms by allowing the water to seep into the ground slowly. The water is filtered and absorbed instead of running off rapidly, which causes erosion and carries pollution and sediment into the Chesapeake Bay.
Our Reform congregation celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2011; the synagogue building is much younger. Completed in 2004 on 21 acres of farmland, it incorporates energy-saving features and a modern storm-water management system. During torrential storms such as those we’ve had this summer, runoff from the roof can be heavy enough to cause erosion in certain spots on its way to the forebay of our storm-water pond. What to do?
In a stroke of serendipity, Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth (READY) last year launched its program to build free rain gardens at religious institutions in Howard County. Funded by the county and administered by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the program trains high school and college-age youth to build the specialized gardens with professional oversight.
Rabbi Craig Axler and President Denny Rapport were supportive of the program, and we saw the installation of our rain garden in August 2012. The sisterhood took initial responsibility for watering 100 new shrubs and flowers from August to November. Soon, interest in environmental stewardship grew, and the Temple established the Sacred Grounds Committee in December 2012.
In March, the committee arranged for planting a native tree as a gift for Rabbi Axler’s installation. Seven more trees, planted through the Howard County Tree Canopy program, soon joined the rabbi’s redbud. We are preparing for more trees, two more rain gardens and rain barrels at certain downspouts. Two congregants donated their professional services to complete an energy review of the building.
With inspiration from our rain garden, the Sacred Grounds Committee developed its goal: to encourage good stewardship of our land and synagogue in order to sustain the natural beauty and function of our religious home for future generations and to fulfill our Jewish value of tikkun olam.
We feel we have a good start.
Betsy Singer is a member of the Temple Isaiah Sacred Grounds Committee and vice president of campaign for the Jewish Federation of Howard County.