Natural World Reflections Prose

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”  ~  Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac 

The Garden of Life

by L. G.Cullens 2015

Getting by day to day is and always has been a consuming effort for all life forms. Our own history has been one of exceptional development in dealing with life's challenges. Major paths we've taken though are proving to be as much a detriment to our species' longevity (among many others), as they are to our immediate betterment.

This isn't an awareness that's blossomed in lock step with our so-called advancement, given our focus on the here and now influenced by centuries of cultural inculcation, together with the immediacy of getting by. Too few think at length about what in essence sustains our being, or possibly even care, despite all the warning signs that are blatantly manifesting.

More specifically, the natural world web of life, of which we're a part, is fueled by life itself (i.e. passing on basic elements necessary in ensuring the continuum of life renewal), and like any complex self-dependent process entails a semblance of balancing interactions. Excesses disrupting balance accelerate habitat and life form transformations in unexpected ways, and if severe and widespread enough could cause the process to revert to an earlier stage. For example, the ongoing decline of pollinators has the potential to severely alter the food chain.

Consider, if you will, the fact that natural world forces (fire, wind, and water) facilitate a biosphere in which ecosystems sustain every life-supporting function of our planet, including climate regulation influences (e.g. air quality and how ground cover affects temperature), water regulation and filtration (e.g. land cover affects retention and magnitude of runoff), soil formation (i.e. the extent of basic elements necessary to physical life, or lack thereof), food, fibers, medicines, and so on.  All that and yet ecosystems are essentially just combinations of biotic (life forms and their ecological relations) and abiotic (matter devoid of life) components.  They are life, as we know it, which sustains, builds upon, and propagates further life in a cycle of renewal, through an elaborate dance of successional state changes in geologic step with changing environments and evolving life forms.

Basically, these combinations of biotic and abiotic components function in a closed-loop manner (aside from solar energy and cosmic radiation which are aspects of our planet's life cycle as a whole) to recycle the elements that make possible biotic existence in any form on our little blue world. An ecosystem works because all the applicable abiotic elements are present, and all the biotic components act paradoxically (offsetting interactions to maintain a semblance of balance) to bind the system together. Moreover, with ongoing environmental dynamics, biotic disruptions, and mutations, successional ecosystem state changes are ongoing more or less reciprocally. The rate of change being pertinent to the longevity of our life form.

Through such ongoing successional ecosystem state changes of varying degrees, Earth's natural ecosystems have evolved over billions of years to include our own existence. Just how long our life form exists depends on the extent and progress of further biotic and abiotic disruptions, in which, though we don't have a controlling role, we do have a consequential role.  If we consider the question of ecosystem states, in terms of what it is to sustain human existence, then it means preserving and fostering Earth's natural ecosystems, to the extent possible, that allow our habitation — everything else is undeniably secondary relative to any consideration for our progeny.

Pertinent to higher life forms (multi-celled life forms of increasing complexity), especially like ourselves, the two key measures of ecosystem states are sustainable long term productivity and relative stability. Productivity builds over time as the diversity of the biotic community builds to exploit all the ecological niches (in time, space, and kind). That is, greater biodiversity leads to greater primary productivity through better coverage of habitat heterogeneity by the broader and more diverse range of species traits in a community. The second key measure (i.e. relative stability) is dependent on the overall balance of ecological processes in minimizing ecosystem state shifts to background evolutionary changes, as much as possible. We higher life forms have very limited adaptation ranges. Whereas microorganisms can alter their chemistry, we can't because all the dependent cells that makeup our life form render such impractical.

It goes without saying that our species plays a major role in ecosystem disruptive practices, and that such are accelerating successional ecosystem state changes to our detriment. Among the most severe of our practices, and the most exacerbated by our profit maximizing economic paradigm, are our excessive use of fossil fuels, and our conventional agriculture with its monocultures (extensive expanses of individual grains, vegetables, and fruits, together with limited livestock species that crowd out biodiversity) and polluting agrochemicals. Yet these practices are two of the most easily alleviated with paradigm shifts in how we provision ourselves.

Conventional agriculture, together with its reliance on agrochemicals and fossil fuels, is obviously the very antithesis of the natural ecosystems that sustain our existence. So, why not a paradigm shift to many more people producing their own basic needs (food, fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizer, "farmaceuticals", etc.) as much as possible, and doing so in a manner that mimics natural ecosystem structures. Considering just food, natural, whole, mostly raw, foods would help considerably in restoring our natural health (conventional agriculture, processing, and cooking decrease or destroy many essential nutrients and phytochemicals).

Whether one has only a small yard, or acres of arable land, a meaningful step in restoring and fostering our life sustaining natural ecosystems is what is commonly termed a natural garden. That is, a perennial polyculture of multipurpose plants that are self-renewing, self-fertilizing, and for the most part self-maintaining. The term "multipurpose plants" means plants that each fulfill one or more ecological considerations, such as nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators, food and shelter for beneficial organisms (e.g. birds, insects, microbes), aromatic pest confusers, and so on. The goal in a natural garden is not just provisioning ourselves, but also increasing biodiversity and working at balancing ecological processes. Natural gardens mimic ecosystems — those natural perennial polycultures once found throughout the world's humid climates. 

Just fostering more native plant life, in an effort to promote more biodiversity through more polycultures, would be a meaningful step in the right direction. Surely there is no more necessary, or rewarding, endeavor than trying to foster the gardens of life that sustain or very existence.