building a beautiful and bountiful world in collaboration with nature

Archive for June, 2012

Tell A Good Feeling Story: Gardening is the Vibrancy of Living

I did a little blog surfing after publishing my last post, looking to see what others were saying about gophers.  One of the blogs I found had a post entitled “Gardening is Killing.” (Link below.)  Well, yes, that’s one way of looking at everything from trapping gophers and squashing Harlequin bugs to harvesting carrots.  It’s an idea that rests on a few major assumptions:  First, that the world is composed of separate things.  Second, that these separate things are in a constant competition for survival.  Third, that the survival of some of these independent things is the goal of life.

None of which is true.  Scientists in disciplines as diverse as ecology, quantum physics, epigenetics, and social psychology have demolished much of the evidence that the old, “survival of the fittest” story is based on.

Storymaking and storytelling are two of our uniquely human skills.  Everyone does it.  Some of us use avenues such as blogging and all of us through the simple act of thinking a few thoughts.  I started this year by posing a question: What is the potential ecological role of humans here on Earth?  One of the things I am understanding about that question is that the stories we tell to each other and to ourselves about our role in our gardens and here on Earth has a huge impact on how we behave and what our actual ecological role is and will become.

Is gardening a constant, bloody battle?  Sure it is, if the story you tell in your head is based on the existence of independent creatures struggling just to survive.  But that’s an old story.  We’ve disproven it.  We have new and more useful stories to tell now.

In the new story, we live in an interconnected system composed of “relatively independent”, but not truly separate parts.  From the discovery of the primacy of nonlocality and entanglement in quantum physics, to the documented rejuvenation of the riparian zones of Yellowstone because of the reintroduction of wolves, to the carrots and pigs that energize, repair, and rejuvenate my body’s cells as I eat them, to the winds that blow from China to California, this planet is a network of absolutely interconnected and ever shifting flows of energy, matter, and information.  Yes!

In the new story, we live on a planet that was and is built through cooperative interactions.  From the early alliance of our mitochondrial and cellular ancestors building the millions, even billions, of species of multicellular creatures, to the bacteria which out number us in our own bodies as they support our ability to digest (among many other things), to the atmospheric balancing act of oxygen-breathing animals with carbon dioxide-breathing plants, cooperation builds the conditions needed for the ever evolving and complexing biological diversity of this glorious garden planet.  Yes!

In the new story, we live in an intelligent universe.  From the water of this world with its amazing ability to hold memory, to the plants that can read our minds as they perceive, and decide, and remember without the help of brains, to the biophotons of light that regulate our internal biochemistry while communicating with everything around us, intelligence and organization and meaning surround us every step of the way.  To quote the Bioneers motto, “It’s all alive.  It’s all intelligent.  It’s all relatives.”  Yes!

As I spend time in my garden, I tell myself this new story.  I am not truly separate from the gophers.  We are part of the same continuum of life living Earth into being.  Our interactions are multifaceted, complex, and dynamic beyond what my conscious mind can comprehend at this time.  Occasionally, these interactions end in the de-animation of a gopher body and the enhanced animation of ant and earthworm bodies.  Life leaps unbounded from one form to another.  In my story, gardening is vibrant, cooperative, interconnected and living.

Note:  Some of the best books to read to support this new story are Lynn McTaggart’s The Bond and Fritjof Capra’s The Web of Life as well as The Secret Life of Plants and Secrets of the Soil by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird.

Gardening, Gophers, and Balance

I trapped a gopher this past week.  My main vegetable garden is next to a large meadow and there is always plenty of gopher activity in it.  So far this year, I’ve lost a tomato, some komatsuna, and several dill plants to the gophers.  Some of the peppers are a bit stunted, and I’m fairly certain this is due to the gopher tunnels running beneath them.  All of this damage I’ve accepted.  I plant extra every year as a “provide for everyone” strategy.  Nature after all is profligate, sowing literally hundreds and thousands of seeds for every plant that comes to full maturity.  Mimicking that behavior saves me a lot of headache and heartache.

I also try to encourage snakes near my gardens.  Rock piles make good habitat for them – as well as for toads who help with slug populations.  Every year I see gopher snakes and king snakes hanging out in the sun or slithering across a slope on our property.  Unfortunately, this main vegetable garden is in a cold and wet spot, which works well in some respects, but is not an asset to snake proliferation.

My agreement with the gophers is that we will live together.  They will take things I’ve planted, and I will be tolerant and patient and appreciative of their digging and tilling.  Until I’m not.  And then I will do some trapping.  And a gopher or two later I will stop.  I will be tolerant and patient and appreciative.  Until I’m not.  We will live with respect for each other and for the dynamic balance of our shared space.  I don’t have to be an angel and neither do they.

Last year passed without me setting any traps at all.

It was the beautiful cabbage that I discovered partially sucked into the ground and wilted that drove me to the traps.  I have this thing for cabbages, plus I love my cabbages for sauerkraut, and didn’t get enough of them planted to want to share them with gophers.  I set my traps in the clean run directly below where the cabbage had grown and used a large pot to cover up the hole.  Within 2 days I had a large, dead gopher.  It’s body will be compost, becoming fertile soil.  I set one more trap pair beneath the peppers.  And then I’ll stop.  I’ll ask for a truce.  Space for me and my plants.  Space for them.  Balance between us.

The World is a Fruity Verb

Weeding the raspberries has been one of my main projects this past week.  We were blessed by some late rains – rain in June is rare here – and I want to make sure the raspberries get the lion’s share of that water.  The grasses, wild lettuce, and yellow dock in the raspberry beds had gotten to three feet tall.  Matching the raspberries!  So, time for me to weed them out, adding mulch in the places where it has gotten thin.  All of this is happening because I like eating homegrown raspberries – and because the world never holds still.  In spite of the grammatical structures I have to use here, we live not in a noun, but in a verb.

When I think about all the processes taking place in my raspberry patch, I find it staggering.  The raspberries themselves are engaged in who knows how many chemical, biological, and physics reactions at any one moment.  Photosynthesis.  Growth.  Assimilation.  Digestion.  Transportation of sap and nutrients.  Breathing.  Add to that all the same types of processes going on in the soil, in the weeds, and in me.  Add the movement of air and atmosphere.  The cycling of night and day.  We do not live in/on some static thing.  We live in, as part of, a moving, flowing expression of energy, light, and information.

I’m not really weeding a raspberry patch.  I’m tweaking an active exchange of energy and matter.  I am a fairly (but not completely) stable pattern of energy, light, and information engaging with other relatively stable patterns.  Thinking of it this way, my whole experience shifts.  The raspberries and the weeds and I all become part of an endless cycle of transformation, playacting an experience of solidity.  I eat a raspberry, and as I do a mosquito eats a bit of me.  A bird or bat eats the mosquito, then leaves a dropping in the raspberry patch.  A small cycle of transformation embedded in bigger cycles.

Because the world is a verb, there will never be a point when we’ve gotten everything done.  Mulch will be digested and become soil.  New seeds will germinate.  The action is never-ending.

A Sense of Direction

I have a ritual that is part of  my morning dog walks.  Each of the different walks I take offers a special spot, a place that calls for pausing, whether to admire the view at “Lookout Rock” or to have a quiet moment with Ancient Blue Oak.  Like the shady side of the pond on a hot afternoon, these are the places that invite taking a moment to stop and reconnect or reorient to a deeper view of the world and of my life.  These are the places that make it easier to orient the Inner Me to the outer me.

Five or six years ago, when the dog walks were becoming a daily ritual, I was also reading books that described the Native American and Celtic versions of the compass: the medicine wheel and Celtic cross.  These are both orientation tools, used to assist in the navigation of both inner and outer worlds.  It became natural for me to use the special pausing places of my morning walks to turn myself in a circle, greeting the four directions.  I would stand a moment facing North, East, South, and West and call to mind the qualities, colors, elements, or ideas that were associated with each direction in the books I was reading.  I would also stand, seeing the 360 degrees around me as a map of the year with North marking the winter solstice, East the spring equinox, and so on, and  I would mark my place on the wheel of the year as I made my turning.

Eventually, I let go of the effort in this ritual.  I stopped trying to remember what someone else said about the meaning and associations of the four directions and their middle points, the cross quarter directions of northeast, southeast, etc.  I let go of what was true for someone else and began to simply notice what came up in me as I faced each direction.  What feelings, ideas, or images came to mind?  I continue to do this each day.  It is a way of connecting anew each morning to the greater forces at work in the cosmos, on the planet, and in me.  I have my own associations now with each direction, and they continue to evolve.   North, for me, is all about air and the unseen, the nonphysical reality behind the seemingly material world, while West is a water direction.  The greatness of the Pacific Ocean lives 100 miles or so beyond the furthest hills to the west in my view from Lookout Rock.  I feel its presence out there, and greet it along with the mystery of consciousness which feels “watery” to me.

I share these details not because they are true or correct or right.  I share them because it may all be different for you.  These tools of wheels and calendars are meant to bring out the truth inside each of us.  They are tools meant to help us each discern how we want to orient ourselves to the billions of bits of information per second that our bodies are taking in and processing.  Making that information useful requires an orientation system.  We set our subconscious software so that it knows what is relevant and useful to the conscious mind, and as humans, we have tremendous leeway in creating these settings.  A germinating plant is preprogrammed to sense the gravity/levity axis and grow accordingly.  I have never seen a root come poking up from the ground rather than the leaf!  No matter what position you place the seed in before covering it with moist earth, the leaf always emerges into light.  The seed’s orientation system is absolutely effective for getting roots into the ground and leaves into the sunlight.  Our orientation systems are also absolutely effective at delivering to us the information and experiences we program them for.  The question is: what are the settings, are they delivering the information and experiences I really want, and how can they be changed?

Physically moving myself to face each direction and notice what comes up in me as a result has become a useful tool.  It has helped me to become aware of some of my other-than-conscious orientation settings, and that awareness allows me to change, to shift my movement toward a desired direction.  It helps me to create the day-to-day connection I desire with the soil, water, plants, and animals in my gardens.

What tools do you use to orient yourself to a bigger picture?  I’d love to have a conversation about this!