I’m taking a series of gardening classes and this first one is about ecology. My brain is out of practice at paying attention to an instructor for three hours, and it’s already decided this first session is not what I came for. I’m consumed with figuring out how to grow more than three tomatoes a year and I can’t see how learning about ecosystems is going to help. My mind tries to wander off into some other odd territory.
To stay focused, I dutifully draw my own version of this triangle the instructor is discussing, explaining what kinds of plants will thrive in what sort of situation. As I finish, something clicks. Not about plants, but about humans.
Yes, I get how the adaptable plants win in a harsh environment. Witness the dessert cactus, the marshy sea grass and the northern lichens.
In places of havoc and tragedy, where death is frequent and unpredictable, I can see how plants that put most of their energy into procreation survive as a species. Ferns, ground covers like clover, and the common dandelion persist amid fires and flood.
I’ve labeled the top of my triangle “lucky plants” but these are not the instructor’s words. The top triangle is a well kept garden, given plenty of water, sunshine and fertile soil. The instructor says if you remove human care, the plants will not all stay in their neat rows in the proportions the humans have selected. Some will thrive and some will dwindle, and which does what is determined by how aggressive the plant is. Yes, in a place where life is easy, over time the more aggressive plants win.
I think humans have some sense of this and, to our detriment, some of us have taken to applying this philosophy to our politics. Allow me to explain with a diagram.
True, we have our own societies which have adapted to harsher climates around the world. The dessert, the far north and the Australian Outback all present challenges. When the situation is extreme enough, human populations face little competition for their niche.
Yes, historically, populations at the mercy of ongoing wars, and of natural disasters like frequent floods, wide-spread disease or famine, have tended to have more offspring, in hopes of having some survive.
It’s at the top of the triangle where I think we run into trouble.
First, I don’t think we begin to understand how the plant kingdom is interconnected and really works. So, this particular view of ecology may not be fair or accurate as far as plants are concerned. But even if it was ….
…. we’re not plants. We lack the gift of the plant kingdom, to obtain all we need from the sun and the soil. In return for having to devour other life to stay alive, we get mobility. With that comes the chance to rapidly alter our locations and to shape our environment.
We’ve got these terrific brains that get us in all sorts of trouble, but also allow us to improve our landscape and increase our resources. We can think our way into trouble, but we can also think our way out of it.
We have hearts. I don’t mean in the literal sense, though those are great, too. We have empathy and compassion and somewhere deep inside a sense of the way we are all interconnected. In our souls, we don’t want a life of ease at the expense of having others suffer. We aren’t oak trees crowding out the pines or killing off the grass. We can pretend otherwise, but a healthy human feels sadness at another’s loss.
We need to understand that we don’t live in a garden and we don’t have to beat others off with a stick lest they try crowd us out of it. We need to build our policies based on the philosophy of being entirely capable of working with others to make the our environment better and safer for all. With the sense and compassion that are our birthright as a species, we could have a planet in which we all thrive. So put those sticks away.
Class is ending and I gather up my notes and doodles. No, nothing in today’s class is going to help me grow more tomatoes. However, I think I might have a great idea for my blog.