During a recent visit to London, my wife and I lucked into a live performance at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the River Thames. Like the 17th century original, the new Globe is an open-air theater where you can feel the below-freezing chill of a bleak midwinter evening. In the cold and damp of December, the Globe was theater-in-the-raw.

Actors in whimsical costume filled the theater with full, unamplified voices and raucous music. Trapeze artists stepped across a high-wire above the stage. Wonderful characters left the stage and marched right past us as we cheap-ticket groundlings scurried to get out of their way. Truly, in a theater brought back to live after an absence of nearly 400 years, this is where Shakespeare’s work lives.

If only restoring nature were so simple. I know that ecologists can point to successful restorations. I myself have reveled in the sight of spawning wild salmon swimming up a restored stream in Alaska. I’ve watched songbirds trill courtship calls in tracts of prairie grasses planted in hopes of restoring a sliver of the tallgrass prairies in Minnesota. Restored wetlands in Mississippi River bottomland forests and Florida’s Everglades again brim with life. Restoring nature is possible, and necessary, but it’s not easy.

Reconstructing Shakespeare’s Globe called for oak timbers and grass thatch, bricks and mortar. Restoring nature doesn’t have a standard list of materials. I don’t think we will always know what’s missing as we set out to restore damaged places.  What exactly did a particular prairie look like before it was plowed under? What species are vital members of the community? Sometimes, that knowledge is simply gone.

Many of us remember that Emily Dickinson told us:

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

It’s lovely verse, but you and I know it’s not so simple. We’ve successfully restored the Shakespeare stage experience on the banks of the River Thames, but restoring nature in those places where we’ve overstepped our bounds will never be as simple. Isn’t that reason enough to keep nature’s own theater alive and well in the first place?

(Image: The Globe Theatre. Credit: TGIGreeny/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)

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