Am I a falcon, a storm or a great song?

" Yet for the most part, Americans who write about nature don't write about the garden- about man-made landscapes and the processes of their making. This is an odd omission, for although gardening may not a first seem to hold the drama or grandeur of, say climbing mountains, it is gardening that gives us our most direct and intimate experience of nature- of its satisfactions, fragility and power." Second Nature- by Michael Pollan

I've been reading Michael Pollan's 'Second Nature- A gardener's education'- which is about Michael Pollan's relationship with gardening, wilderness, Nature, cultivation, and different philosophies of gardening. It is an interesting read- beautifully written- and echoes some of the debates that rage in my head around Nature and gardening. Although I don't agree with everything Michael Pollan says... it is an excellent foray into the debate.

Coming from a conservation biology background where 'Wilderness' is put on a grand pedestal and humans are the scourge of the earth, it is interesting to see nature from the eyes of a gardener. As a conservation biologist you are constantly trying to keep humans from destroying wild places by separating the two- like two children that can't play nicely together. Although I am simplifying things a great deal- people generally think that nature and humans are fundamentally at odds. They mutually exclude each other.

No wonder people speak disparagingly about the state of the world if they can only see black or white! We frame ideas in a box with no room to see the grey areas. These grey areas are usually where transformation, inspiration and change occur-where nature and culture can coexist.

At Linnaea- we had the great natives vs exotics debate during permaculture class, Jerry Springer style. It was fun and rowdy and yet so unconclusive.... with sensational statements like 'what about the babies?!' and 'what- are you going to start eating camas bulbs and oolichan?'. In our hearts we all knew that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Restoration, forest gardens, Masanobu Fukuoka's natural way of farmin, permaculture all have roots in the this middle ground. What is removing broom from a Garry Oak meadow if not 'weeding' for the sake of nature? What is grafting a pipin apple onto a native crabapple root stock, if not melding culture and nature? Where is the resemblance between reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone and ladybugs to your garden?

"The gardener learns nothing when his carrots thrive, unless that success is won against a background of prior disappointment. Outright success is dumb, disaster frequently eloquent. At least to the gardener who learns how to listen." Second Nature by Michael Pollan

And that's just it- nature and culture are one for those who learn how to listen. It's the first principle of permaculture: observe and interact. It is a main premise of deep ecology and other philosophical treatises on the relationship between humans and nature.

" I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world. I may not ever complete the last one, But I give myself to it. I circle around God, that primordial tower. I have been circling for thousands of years, and I still don't know: am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song?"

Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours
-translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy


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