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While the Blessed are the Pollinators project might not be pollinator heaven, for Merry Cox it comes close to a divine calling. The local artist and protector of a historic Smeltertown homestead property is the driving force behind a project that will see more than 1,100 Nepal-style prayer flags fluttering in the wind beginning at 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, at 9020 CR 15, the artist’s workshop on her historic property.

The flags fluttering in the wind make a rustling sound, punctuated by bird song, the buzzing of bees and the sound of machinery on neighboring property. While the scene is in Chaffee County, it could easily be another place entirely. “The Nepal culture uses these flags to spread goodness out into the world,” said Cox. “So I thought what better way to remind people to take responsibility for the habitat necessary to life – to understand that it is the pollinators of this earth that make life possible.”

The handmade prayer flags were created by some 400 to 500 people who live in Chaffee County and 14 other states. The event, stretched from Sept. 14 to Sept. 23; it began with a children’s opening party on Friday, when only the flags made by children were displayed. This will be followed by a private flag-makers celebration featuring all the prayer flags and honoring the artists who made them. The public can view the flags during a free Salida Studio Tour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 22 and 23.

Cox, an artist who traveled in Nepal and keeps visual journals, says she got the idea for the project in January while observing the wildlife on her own rural landscape. “Our lives depend on plants, especially native plants, and flowering plants require pollinators such as bees, bats, beetles, birds and bugs. The pollinators play a critical role ensuring that fruits, vegetables, nuts and half the world’s fibers, oils and raw materials must be pollinated to bear fruit. I thought, why don’t we harness the power of people to spread the word about planting beneficial habitats and building pollinator pathways?”

The project received a $500 grant from the Salida Council for the Arts in July. Cox said she’s enormously grateful for the project funding to support her goal to raise awareness that the habitats humans depend on for survival are in trouble and to educate people about ways to help solve the problem.

The project purposefully involves children, Cox says. “Adults can be so judgmental of themselves. Kids just do it – they sit down and create – and it was great fun to involve the local kids in this effort. Along the way we were able to make this educational too. For instance, did you know that honeybees are considered livestock?”

Members of the Boys and Girls Club of Salida point upward to the flags they designed and created. (photo by Sandy Hobbs)

While the event is focused on art, Cox is also a permaculture teacher trained to create sustainable human habitats. Her focus, she explains, is most always biodiversity because it can provide healthy food and medicines from the local environment, decrease water needs, control pests and reduce dependence on pesticides and herbicides.

She likes using art to help the general population understand what they can do to create biodiverse environments and a healthy bee population. Her suggestions begin with a basic understanding of where you live. “If you think of it as creating your own nature preserve, you look at the mix of native plants, the local animals, the watersheds. I think every garden deserves a tree, and a diverse environment is better. That’s because the more varied the habitat, the more wildlife you’re going to attract. I tell people, always use native plants first because that’s what indigenous bees prefer.

“Deliberately planting a yard with native plants can create a refuge that returns some wild to the world that has been taken away by our houses, our highway systems, our lawns. The benefactors are bees and hornets, sparrows and bluebirds, hummingbirds and butterflies, the garter snake in the flowerbed – but most of all, we are the benefactors. Biodiversity runs the ecosystems that produce the eco-services we all depend upon.”

Cox has created a link where many of her suggestions for pollinator-friendly environments can be found.

A video of the project has been created by Michael F Murphy.